I love teaching middle school. Every day my students surprise and amaze me with something new and unexpected. These three books surprise me with the unexpected, too, as they chronicle the lives of middle school characters. I think you will find characters and situations that would feel right at home in our school, too.
Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes (Scholastic 2011)
I enjoyed this glimpse into Joylin’s life as she navigates the changes that middle school brings. Joylin loves basketball. She could watch and play all day long with the guys, but now things are changing whether she wants them to or not. Her body has a mind of its own as it grows overnight. All of a sudden, she can’t keep the boys out of her mind. She’s even giggling when a certain Santiago comes around. She just might try out some make up and a skirt, too. Things are even changing with her two best friends, KeeLee and Jake. At home she just wishes her dad could see her brother Caleb’s artistic talent over her athletic interests. Through it all, Joylin must learn how to stay true to herself. Nikki Grimes’ poetry capture those moments that define and change Joylin.
The Cruisers by Walter Dean Myers (Scholastic 2010)
Zander and his friends Kambui, LaShonda and Bobbie have a problem. Even though they are students at the school for gifted and talented kids, they are not living up to their potential. The assistant principal is ready to throw them out unless they can come up with a plan–and fast. Their last chance is to broker a peace between the students who have been assigned the role of Union sympathizers and Confederate sympathizers in a school-wide Civil War project. Zander hopes they can pull it off with the power of words using their alternative newspaper, The Cruiser. Before it is over, they have all learned a lesson about the power of the pen–that words can bring peace or be used as weapons. While some of his friends are ready to fight, Zander wants to “find the win in it.” What’s the point of fighting if the only thing you change is to get yourself kicked out of school? One of my favorite parts is how Zander figures out how to fight back (with words) and keep the win. Along they way, they learn that everyone has to be willing to own their words and actions. Now if I could just get that across in language arts class!
Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan Marino (Scholastic 2009)
Get ready to travel back in time to 1969 with this book. Things are changing slowly Ramble Street as the world gets ready to watch Neil Armstrong take the first step on the moon. For the kids on Ramble Street, nothing comes in the way of a good kickball game–unless it is the lies told by Muscle Man McGinty. Tamara has had enough of his lies and thinks she might finally prove her point when Muscle Man claims he can beat the the other kids on the block all by himself. Somehow, though, things don’t go quite according to Tamara’s plan. Tamara is so wrapped up in proving Muscle Man’s lies, that she can’t see the truth in front of her face. No matter how quiet things are on Ramble Street, issues from the rest of world leak into the carefree days of childhood.