My Top Ten Books I Booktalk Every Year by Julie DeMicco
I teach junior high students. Junior high students who mostly don’t like to read. Junior high students who are only in my class because they have scored poorly on our state reading test. Junior high students who would rather not be in my class because if they weren’t, they could have a study hall. Needless to say, it’s a challenge.
I have individual goals for my students, as each of them have very different needs, but I also have overarching goals for all of them. I want to lure them into being readers. I want them to fall in love with characters, get lost in a book, laugh out loud while reading, perhaps shed a tear or two, be able to name favorite authors and genres, see themselves in a book as well as learn about people very different from them. I want them to WANT to read for pleasure.
I know I can do none of this alone. But I can accomplish this with the help of a tremendous classroom library. Access is everything. My students, at least at the start of the year, are not the students who will hear about an interesting book, hold that thought until they have a free period, remember the title and/or author, and then march down to the school library and retrieve said book. Don’t get me wrong; our school library is fabulous, as is our librarian. But for my students, immediate access is better.
If I book talk a book, and a student wants it, I need to have it to hand to him/her. While I am an avid reader and read new books constantly, I also have my tried-and-true favorites that I booktalk every year. These are the books, that in the past, have hooked students. These are the books that every year have caused students to say, “This is the first book I have finished in three years.” These are the books that students have TAKEN HOME to continue reading. These are the books that my students will come back to me and say, “Do you have another book like this one?”
And here they are, in no particular order:
Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper
The Tears of a Tiger trilogy was new to me when I first started to teach at this level. Tears of a Tiger is the story of seventeen-year-old Andy who is feeling terribly guilty for accidentally causing the death of his best friend through drunk driving. Personally, this book kind of tore my heart out. Sharon Draper wrote this in 1994, but it is timeless. She could have written it yesterday. I love how this book could stand alone, or a student could choose to read the entire trilogy.
What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
This is the story of Sophie, a freshman in high school, struggling through the usual issues a freshman girl might face. This is a novel in verse, and is just so accessible and relatable for a student who might not really like to read. Some students read this book and then read everything Sones has written. All the white space on the page is extremely attractive to many of my students.
El Deafo by Cece Bell
El Deafo is the first graphic novel I ever read, and it hooked me on graphic novels forever! El Deafo is about a girl who experiences hearing loss and struggles with having to wear something called a Phonic Ear. When I booktalk this, I always play a YouTube clip of Cece Bell talking about her book and her experiences. When students hear that this book is loosely based on Cece Bell’s life, they clamor for it! I always have a waiting list. None of my students has ever abandoned this book.
Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
This was added to my list recently, as this book was published in 2015. I have always been a fan of Schmidt’s books, but this one is definitely my favorite. This story is about Joseph, a thirteen-year-old in foster care, who has fathered a child named Jupiter. Yes, you heard me right: thirteen. This book also kind of tore my heart out.
The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Part-Time Indian is about Junior, a boy growing up on an Indian Reservation. He likes to draw and to write, and realizes he may have to leave his home to make a better life for himself. This book is laugh-out-loud funny. My students are drawn to the drawings inside, the humor, and the “curse words” that I hint are inside.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
This is an amazing book written in verse about basketball, family, parental health, and coming-of-age issues. My students eat it up, and almost always go on to read another book by Alexander.
Blood Trail by Nancy Springer
This is an older book I discovered when trying to find shorter books that were of high interest to my students. It is about two good friends and a murder. I don’t have to say much about this book, and a few students always ask to read it.
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
My students loved this book before the release of the movie, and they loved it even more after the release of the movie!
Gym Candy by Carl Deuker
This is the first “sports” book I ever read. I made myself read it so I could book talk it, the year it was an Iowa Teen Award choice. This book is about so much more than just football. I am forever a Deuker fan, and so are many of my students!
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
I love dystopian fiction. I always book talk it, hoping my passion is contagious. When I talk about this series, I show the first movie clip. Unfortunately, some students only want to watch the movie, but usually at least a few are drawn to the book.
Julie DeMicco is a junior high reading teacher who has been teaching for a long time, but who has been reading even longer. She considers herself lucky to be such a fast reader; the more books she reads, the more books she can book talk. She is proud to have raised two reading daughters, and a dog who tries. She can be found on Twitter at @demiccoj, and at #NerdCampMI every July.
On Sat, Feb 10, 2018 at 8:05 AM, Nerdy Book Club wrote:
> CBethM posted: “I teach junior high students. Junior high students who > mostly don’t like to read. Junior high students who are only in my class > because they have scored poorly on our state reading test. Junior high > students who would rather not be in my class because if ” >
Amazing list! And true, these books have that “hook.” (I haven’t seen Blood Trail; I just added it to my list.)
I also teach jr high/middle school. Thanks for sharing!
Jennifer, do you have any other favorites?
Thanks for this marvelous post. Getting middle school/jr. high kids to LIKE reading is always a challenge. Your list is just what the doctor – er, teacher – ordered. I teach literacy workshops throughout Iowa all summer and will definitely be sharing your list.
Where will you be this summer?
I love books! Good to hear that you’re trying to encourage them to read for pleasure and not just because they have to 🙂
There should be more books on your list with girl protags. Pay attention.
El Deafo was my first graphic novel too:) I’ve read more since. Great list!
Terrific list! I have a very similar teaching situation to you. Orbiting Jupiter is such a reliable recommendation! I still need to read Gym Candy so I can book talk it, and I hadn’t heard of Blood Trail before. Some other go-tos for me are Girl Stolen, a thriller by April Henry, and Jason Reynold’s Ghost and Long Way Down. One of my kids got Milk & Honey for Christmas, and now I have a dozen kids begging me to buy that and the poet’s second book. They aren’t SUPER appropriate for a middle school classroom, but after a brief conversation about the mature content, I’ll let an 8th grader borrow them.
I love all of those, too!
This is such a universal challenge in middle schools. Thank you so much for putting this list together and for working so hard to help those students fall in love with reading. I would second the previous commenter’s recommendation of Ghost by Jason Reynolds, and I’d also add House Arrest by K. A. Holt to the list. It’s another easily accessible novel-in-verse that’s also amazingly powerful. Thank you for the work you’re doing!
Yes, Ghost is fabulous! Have you read Long Way Down?
I teach seventh-grade ELA, and I, too, am passionate about reading and finding the perfect book for every student. Last week I gave a student, who really struggles with reading and has never liked a book, Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse. She LOVES it! When I told her about the book, she almost grabbed it out of my hands. It’s written in verse, so there’s a lot of white space on each page, and I really think that gives struggling readers confidence. She made me so happy!
Love that book!
I want to do something big this year to get my kids excited about reading and sharing their books. Some kind of book festival with food and prizes. Any ideas?
Ooh! Let me think about this! What a great idea! TODAY, we are celebrating the Caldecott Medal. It is awarded today. We did a mock Caldecott unit. You could also do a book tasting to get ready for summer.
I am a graduate student studying special education. In undergrad, I took a course called literacy for young adults. Each week we would read a different book, have discussions, and talk about what lessons and aspects of the book would benefit or interest students. In this class, we read The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. While I am an avid reader and have a hard time putting any book down, I felt that this book had so many things that would capture and engage students. This book displays real-life themes that many middle school and high school students can probably relate to. There are fights, disputes with parents, trouble with girls, high school sports. I love that this book can give students something to connect to while giving them a perspective on how other people in this country live. A concurrent theme I found in all of the books we read was a teenager who was struggling with something internally and had to figure out a way to deal with it. Whether it be something fictional or non-fiction, the books displayed a way to cognitively work through hard times at a very confusing point in life. Thank you for this list, I will definitely be using these books in the future.
Your students are going to be so lucky to have you!
I would add Touching Spirit Bear to that list and anything by Jason Reynolds or Alan Gratz
You are so right! My kids are eating up those books!!
Thank you for this list. I haven’t read a couple of these books for years and a few are brand new to me. I would also add The Book Thief to this list.
Your collection is awesome, I just loved it. In fact, I also had a similar kind of collection which I keep secured with reservation books covers.
Perfect list! Added “The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie” to my To-read list!