Every now and then I find myself reading a lot more than usual. Recently I found myself devouring a whole range of new-to-me middle-grades books and I thought I should share them with you here!
What does it mean to be a friend? What do we do for our friends? How do our friends influence our behaviours? How do we feel when we can't find the right friends.
These are some of the questions sitting within this autobiographical graphic novel by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham. Looking at how friendships grow and change as we do, this book raises a whole lot of possible discussion questions which would be great to explore with our students.
This would be a particularly good book to introduce at the beginning of the school year as students are building a classroom community. It would also fit beautifully into a discussion of graphic novels and whether some stories are told better in a graphic novel form.
This is another graphic novel which deals with the issue of friendship and how people grow apart and change. However, Astrid is also dealing with her own growing up and how she fits into the world in this coming-of-age story.
Astrid falls in love with roller derby after her mother takes her and her friend Nicole to a bout. However, although Astrid is excited about roller derby camp, Nicole signs up for ballet camp. And then Astrid discovers that roller derby is hard.
One of my favourite things about this graphic novel is that Astrid doesn't find roller derby easy. She feels out of place and uncoordinated among girls who have experience in the sport and she has to dig in and find perseverance to keep going. This would be a great book to include if you're promoting a growth mindset in your classroom.
This novel had two of my favourite things - a cast of interesting and individual characters and a protagonist with an interesting hobby. Naomi lives with her younger brother and her great-grandmother who took them in. But when her mother returns and wants to take her away, the trio find themselves travelling to Mexico on a quest to find their father - and more about their history.
One thing which really stands out here is that Naomi carves soap - making intricate animal figurines out of bars of regular soap. It's this skill - which she knows is connected to her father - which allows her to play a pivotal role towards the end of the book.
There's a lot of scope for research with this book as well as a lot of possible discussions about what makes a family and how family can be built by the people we invite into our lives.
This is a relatively short book, but there's a fair amount in it for discussion and consideration. Verbena has recently discovered that her life isn't really what she thought it was and is feeling completely out of sorts in her own skin - especially as her best friend starts drifting towards other people.
Then Pooch comes along and has his own set of differences and difficulties. Verbena sees his arrival as an opportunity to be someone else - to sit in someone else's 'skin' for a little while - until things go completely wrong and she has to be herself again.
This is another book which examines friendship, but it also looks at identity and truth - there's a lot of ideas to explore around names and who we are in this one.
After Suzy's best friend drowns - despite being an excellent swimmer - Suzy finds herself retreating into a world of silence and looking for answers. She thinks she's found them in jellyfish - and she sets out to find all the answers she'll need.
Yet another book about friendship - there's definitely a theme going on in all these books! But also about how we react to external events, pressures and even medications. How people impact on our lives and how we need to accept our own responsibility in the events around us.
Like the next book, this is probably better for the slightly older (or more able to work with mature themes) middle-grades reader. This would be an ideal book for a classroom library and I could see students finding a lot to respond to in it.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed all the books here, this is the book which kept me awake until after 1am so I could finish reading it. Lewis lives on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975 - living a life where he's surrounded by family and traditions which mean everything to him and a house which is falling down around his family. Additionally he's living a school life where he's the only non-white student in his class, there's a vicious bully who no one will confront and he's got a new friend who's willing to share a lot, but can't ever know about Lewis's home life - even as he makes Lewis less invisible at school.
This is a relatively complex book with a lot of strings to hold together and it's probably better for a more mature reader. There's an awful lot to get out of it though, from the nature of friendship (again!), to the idea of moving or being stuck in one place, to the strength of music and songs running throughout the book.
This would make an excellent small group book study in the classroom. In a secure and safe setting, students could get a lot of personal reflection out of it, as well as looking at how the author uses words, plot and character to create such an engaging story.