Category: books

Ten Middle Grade Books You’ll Love No Matter How Old You Are

Ten Middle Grade Books You’ll Love No Matter How Old You Are

The best part of my teaching day is the fifteen minutes of quiet reading time at the beginning of each literature class. It makes me so happy to look around and see each student focused on their book and lost in their own separate world. Once reading time is over (it kills me to break the peaceful silence), I ask students what they’re reading and whether or not they like it. If a student seems really excited about a book I try my best to read it, and nine times out of ten I am so happy that I did. Middle grade books should not be underestimated- they can make you laugh, cry, and contemplate life’s big questions.

So, whether you’re a teacher looking for new recommendations or someone curious about the genre- here are ten middle grade books you should definitely check out:

  1. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. When I picked this book out to be a class novel I knew I would have to read it toobut I was dreading it! This book was like nothing else I had read before – Monsters? Greek gods? Fighting? No, thank you! I finally forced myself to read it and as you can probably guess, I loved it (it is number one on this list after all). In fact, I loved it so much that I went on to read the entire series!
  2. The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern. It’s hard not to like this book because the main character (Maggie) is so lovable. She tells readers about her daily life as she deals with her dad’s illness and works toward her big dream of becoming the president. One of my favorite things about this book (besides Maggie) is the author’s use of footnotes; they were the perfect fit for Maggie’s Type A personality! P.S. – A portion of the proceeds of this book are donated to the Multiple Sclerosis Society! 
  3. Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick. This is another one that I was reluctant to read, but ended up loving (I should probably stop judging books by their covers). In “Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie” the main character, Steven, remains sarcastic (you will laugh out loud) and lighthearted throughout the book, despite dealing with tough-to-talk-about topics like cancer.
  4. Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo. There’s no way to say this without sounding cheesy, but I just feel warm and light when reading a Kate DiCamillo book. Her stories have a certain magical quality to them -even when there is no magic involved, and this book is the perfect example of that. Raymie is a quiet and introspective character, who only wants happiness, or as she puts it, “for her soul to feel good”. The book follows Raymie as she puts her plan for happiness into action, and of course- meets a few obstacles along the way.
  5. The Trials of Apollo by Rick Riordan. “The Trials of Apollo” is similar to the Percy Jackson series, but instead of having a demigod be the center of attention, this book is all about the Greek god Apollo….except he’s not a Greek god anymore.His father turns him into a teenage boy at the start of the book and he is very unhappy about it: “I will never understand how you mortals tolerate it. You live your entire life trapped in a sack of meat, unable to enjoy simple pleasures like changing into a hummingbird or dissolving into pure light. And now, heavens help me, I was one of you – just another meat sack.”
  6. The BFG by Roald Dahl. Roald Dahl has written a lot of great books, but “The BFG” made it to this list because the the giant is such an awesome character. You will love his funny language (snozzcombers anyone?), his insightful quotes (“two rights do not equal left”), and his rebellious view on eating humans (he doesn’t, but all of the other giants do). The BFJ is funny, like most of Dahl’s books, but it also teaches readers a valuable lesson: just because something is considered “normal” doesn’t mean it’s right
  7. Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo.  Another Kate DiCamillo book (she’s soooo good!). This story follows Flora, who is obsessed with comics, and an unusual squirrel (Ulysses) on an adventure filled with superheroes, villains, oddball characters, and poetry. If I had to pick one thing I loved the most about Flora and Ulysses it would definitely be Flora’s unique catch phrase: “holy unexpected occurrences!” How cute is that?
  8. Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier. This is a graphic novel, so you could probably read it in an hour, but that doesn’t take away from how good it is. The story deals with smaller topics, like the usual growing pains, as well as bigger ones, like dealing with a relative’s illness – all while keeping it light with pictures, soft colors, and a bit of fantasy! I recommend reading this one around Halloween.
  9. The Honest Truth  by Dan Gemeinhart. This past school year I assigned “The Honest Truth” to a book club full of reluctant readers.When they finished reading it they dubbed it to be, “the best book they have ever read” (…and I did a short victory dance in my head). The book follows Mark and his loyal dog Beau as they embark on a mission to climb Mt. Rainer, despite the odds against them.
  10. Courage for Beginners by Karen Harrington. Courage for Beginners is a heartwarming story about Mysti Murphy, whose life gets turned upside down when her dad falls out of a tree. Readers will love Mysti’s take on life, heroes, and cool kids as she navigates seventh grade.

Have you read any of these? What are some of your favorite middle grade books?



Three Things I Love This Week

I feel so lucky to have summer’s off. Not only it is a much-needed refresher, but it also a reminder of how much I love my job. Though there is still a month left of summer, I have begun to prepare for the upcoming school year because I’m truly excited (okay, and a little nervous) for it to start.

  1. The Book Whisperer by Donnalyn Miller: This is a must-read for any reading 519lHx-UOzL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_teacher! Donnalyn Miller does such a wonderful job of reminding the reader (the teacher) what is truly important about teaching reading (Hint: it has nothing to do with worksheets). With such a large focus on testing lately, it is very easy to fall into “skill and drill” mode, i.e. “read this, answer this, repeat.” However, what we need to focus on as teachers is getting students to love reading, because above all practice, the best practice is to just keep reading! After all, studies show that students who read a lot do better in all subjects, not just reading and writing!
  2. Elementary: I have been a fan of Sherlock Holmes ever since my 5th grade teacher read us The Hound of the Baskervilles. Looking back, reading000.jpg Sherlock Holmes seems much too advanced for fifth graders, but our teacher, Mr. Munerantz was so passionate about it that we ended up loving it just as much as he did. Anyways, about two years ago I started (and finished) BBC’s Sherlock Holmes, and I absolutely loved it. I left it at that for awhile, but then recently decided to give Elementary a try. If you’re a fan of Sherlock, it’s important to know that Elementary is nothing like the books or the BBC show, but there are plenty of Sherlock-esque deductions and surprise endings. Overall – it’s an interesting show and it fills my Sherlock needs until the next season of the BBC show is released!
  3. Ben and Jerry’s Non-Dairy: So I haven’t been able to be completely vegan (a trip to Europe quickly put a stop to my no dairy streak), but I have cut down on dairy significantly. This should be really tough when my absolute favorite food is chocolate ice cream, but it isn’t thanks to Ben and Jerry’s new non-dairy ice cream. It’s delicious, and it tastes just like “real” ice cream! So far I have only had the Chocolate Fudge Brownie flavor (5 stars!), but I can’t wait to try the rest! certified-vegan-blog-779x400

Three Things I Love This Week

I have been wanting to write about book clubs, but being that it’s the last week of school, book clubs are the last thing on my mind. Instead, here’s a “light” post (written in the middle of the day because school is over *happy dance*!).

1.  BOOKSTAGRAM!  I found this sub community of instagrammers a month or two ago, and I have been hooked ever since. By simply searching the hashtag #bookstagram, you step into a world of book lovers (who take the prettiest pictures). It’s fun to browse, but it’s also great for finding your next read! The picture below is from @bookishjourney.

image1 (1)

2.Vegucated. Documentaries always have a big effect on me. I watched Food Inc. six years ago and became vegetarian, I watched Tapped and became passionate about getting rid of plastic water bottles, and a few months ago I watched Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead and started to research juicers. So, Vegucated, a documentary about being vegan, was no exception. For the six plus years that I have been vegetarian, I  frequently wondered what it would be like to take the next step and become vegan, and I always felt a bit guilty that I was still benefiting from the harmful treatment of animals. However, being that pizza and ice cream are some of my favorite foods, I tried to ignore these guilty feelings…but I can’t anymore. What they do to these animals for meat, for milk, for cheese, is not okay. The animals on factory farms, which make up about 99% of all farms, live awful, dark lives and when it’s their turn to go they do not get the liberty of a peaceful death. We torture and kill thousands of animals everyday for what? A burger? A piece of pizza? Is it worth it? I don’t want to be a part of that anymore, so I’m going to try to cut all animal products out of my diet. I’m not ready to say I’m fully vegan just yet, but it’s a step in the right direction.

3. The Bucket List Family (#goals?) This family sold all of their belongings (and a million dollar app) and is now travelling the world as a family. They’ve been to places like Thailand, Australia, Singapore, and Bahamas – all while taking care of their two kids, keeping a blog/vlog, and working out! I can’t even find time for the gym on a normal day!


What’s on your favorites list this week?



It’s Almost Time!

The funny thing about being a teacher is that every year you hit the reset button and start your job fresh again. It’s a great thing, but it’s also a bit nerve-wracking. While the teacher in me is excited to get back to school again, the worrier in me can’t stop stressing about the year ahead. So, to satisfy my Type-A personality, I have begun planning here and there. Here’s how I’m doing it.

1. Review and Reflect: The first year of teaching is a roller coaster. Some weekends you feel ready and knowledgable to take on the week, while others you sit with a bowl of ice cream thinking “What am I going to do this week and how am I going to do it?” To prevent this from happening in Year Two, I have been taking the time to review Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 1.11.19 PMmy old plans and put them into a unit plan format. I made a chart with the approximate time the unit takes, key
points of the subject, and some of the specific resources I used. This year, I’ll be able to know right away what I should be teaching (and how to teach it) month by month.

41O2Td0V5iL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_2. Refresh: One of the biggest things in middle school is classroom management. While I think I did a pretty good job managing my classroom as a first year teacher, there is definitely room for improvement. I really like the small tips from Smart Classroom Management’s website (a lot of “Aha!” moments), so I purchased the book. Much like the website, the book is easy to skim and it gives clear directions on how to go about each procedure. I also purchased See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, but I haven’t had the chance to start reading it yet.

3. Shopping! I probably spend way too much money on Teacher’s Pay Teachers, but I never feel guilty about it because 1) It’s beneficial to my classroom instruction and 2) I love that the money goes to real teachers, rather than large textbook companies. My most Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 12.57.26 PMrecent purchase has me really excited for the first days of school; it’s filled with first week activities that will encourage a positive classroom community as well as enforce classroom procedures and rules. Click the picture to buy your own pack and to see more from Literary-Sherri (she has a ton of great products!).


Book Recommendations


nnaa1. Anna and the French Kiss (series) I stumbled upon this book while browsing goodreads recommendations and my first thought was – so cheesy! The name is cheesy, but the rest of the book – I fell in love with it! Stephanie Perkins knows how to create lovable characters. This book is also part of a series, but not in the usual way. The second and third book could be read alone or in any order because they follow a whole new set of characters in an entirely different setting. It’s still a somewhat series because the old, original characters make appearances. I enjoyed all three books, but Anna and the French Kiss is definitely my favorite (I’m even re-reading it – a first for me!).

2.The Meaning of Maggie – Okay, so I haven’t finished this book meaning-of-maggie_9781452110219_normyet and to be really honest, I’m only about half way through, but I can already tell it’s going to be a favorite. I love the voice of the main character, Maggie, who is smart and funny, but in a way that she doesn’t realize. She has big dreams (to become president), she follows her mom’s house rules to a T (she has them all written down), and she can’t understand why her dad’s legs keep falling asleep (she has to be brave, which is not always easy). This book reminds me a lot of Jonathan San Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”, which is also a must read.

3. The Girl on the Train –  I don’t usually read thrillers/mysteries, so I’m not sure how I ended up downloading this audio book, but I’m so glad that I did! Besides it being a ne10735688w genre for me, I was also new to audio books (a first all around!). To my surprise, I really liked listening to a book (it was great at the gym) and I was also very lucky because this was the perfect first audio book. The narrators are English and the book is set in London, so listening, rather than reading, took the story to a whole new level. It also involved three different narrators to accompany the three different perspectives in the book. This was a huge plus! I don’t usually like multiple point of view books, but the change in voices really helped me stay on track with who’s who. As for the story itself – it keeps you guessing constantly and you can’t help but love the main character.


My Favorite YA Books

Young adult books are a guilty pleasure of mine, and as a sixth grade Language Arts teacher I have the perfect excuse to indulge in as many as I like (I’m researching for my students, obviously). I don’t particularly think there’s anything wrong with reading below your intended reading level (after all, reading is reading), and I love the easy-to-follow story lines when everything else in my life is crazy busy. So, I have compiled a list of my all-time favorites (in no particular order):

1. Delirium by Lauren Oliver I read this about two months ago and I still can’t get over how good it was; Lauren Oliver is an amazing writer. The story is set in future America, where love is considered a deadly disease. It is such an interesting concept, and Lauren Oliver made it all seem so real.

2. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Brunt Carol Rafika It’s not often that a book is able to make 51MDWaEfUiL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_me cry, but this one definitely had me in tears. Despite dealing with tough topics, like death and AIDS, it remains a sweet, heartfelt story about friendship and self-love.

3. Looking for Alaska by John Green  It wouldn’t be a young adult book list without John Green (The Fault in Our Stars gets way too much credit). It reminds me a lot of Catcher in the Rye, my all-time favorite book. I loved the way the main character was sort of obsessed with famous last words, and quotes them throughout the book.

4. Insurgent by Veronica Roth Of course you need to read Divergent first, but Insurgent is by far the better out of the two (I still haven’t read Allegiant). I found myself17623975 actually gasping out loud several times while reading this; every chapter brought new twists and surprises.

5. Just One Day by Gayle Forman I really love all of Gayle Forman’s books, but Just One Day is my favorite. The story follows Allyson, a girl who always follows the rules, as she takes a chance on a spontaneous trip to Paris…with a guy she just met. Gayle does a wonderful job making an improbable story come to life – and you can’t help but wish you were Allyson (have a pencil nearby to jot down bucket list to-dos!)


Three Things I Love This Week

1. The Secret Powers of Time. I stumbled upon this today and I couldn’t help but share. The idea of time being such a big divider- in terms of worldviews, money, and choices- is so interesting; and Professor Philp Zimbardo explains it very well. I especially enjoyed when he touched upon the current education model. Pointing out that because technology has changed the way young people think, school should change as well.

2. First Position“. This documentary, which can be found on Netflix, follows several ballerinas on their journey to the Youth American Grand Prix. The intense competition means getting noticed and possibly earning life changing scholarships. I have always been intrigued by ballet, but this documentary made me appreciate it so much more. The dancers are so disciplined and passionate about what they do; it is very admirable.

3. “Taking Flight”. Following suit with my #2 favorite this week, my #3 is Michaela DePrince’s bootaking-flightk, Taking Flight. Michaela, a ballerina featured in the “First Position” documentary, has a very unique story. Michaela was born in Sierra Leone during the 12 year war. After losing both of her parents, she is sent to an orphanage where she feels hopelessly unwanted. When she finds an old magazine with a ballerina on the cover, she clings to it with a dream of someday becoming that girl with the pretty pink shoes.

In the book we follow Michaela from Sierra Leone to the United States – where she strives to become a ballerina despite the negativity surrounding African Americans and ballet. What Michaela went through as a young child is unfathomable and heartbreaking, but her unwillingness to give up and the love of her adoptive mother is truly inspiring. Whether you love ballet, or hate it, this is a must read!


Three Things I Love This Week

I can’t believe how long it’s been! Work is keeping me very busy! I have several lessons in my drafts that I am anxious to share with you, but since they’re lengthy I still have to make a few adjustments. So as a quick, but worthy update, here are three things I love this week:

Insurgent. I read Divergent back in January and loved it, but for someInsurgent_212 reason I never had an interest in pursuing the rest of the trilogy. Something caused me to pick up the second book this past week, and I couldn’t put it down. I just finished it today, but I wish I hadn’t…it’s that good! I love the multiple layers of the story and the plot is so filled with so many twists and turns that you are constantly kept guessing. I can’t wait to read Allegiant!

This site that I stumbled upon on pinterest. Ah, buzzfeed. It can always be counted on for good, but sometimes overwhelming, lists. This list is definitely overwhelming…but in a “Wow I can’t wait to look at all of these. When will I find the time?” kind of way. So far I really like Trover – which is a lot like instagram, but geared towards travel and discovering new places. It even has an option to save pictures to a list of dream destinations!

peter_pan_livePeter Pan Live! Peter Pan is my absolute favorite character. (Staying young forever, flying, and fighting pirates? Yes please.) When I was younger I would watch Peter Pan every time I was upset, so when I saw that they were making a live version, I couldn’t wait! The whole production was so well put together and I really felt as if I was at a live production. But this might have been even better, because I was actually home in my pajamas with a cup of hot chocolate. The set had a very fairy tale feel and the actors were amazing– it was especially cool to see Allison Williams in such a different setting!


Three (Books) I Love This Week

1. On my trip to Barnes and Noble this past Saturday, I stumbled upon the book, Just Jake. image (3) It’s written like a diary but geared toward boys, so I knew my students would love it. I had to get it! Not to mention it was brand new and only $3 (yay B&N used section)!

The book is about Jake, a sixth grader, who is struggling to regain his social status in a new school. The pages are filled with Jake’s drawings, and surprisingly sensible bits of advice (or as Jake calls them, “Rules of Awesomeness”). Despite its preteen audience, I really enjoyed reading this! The best part? The author, Jake Marcionette, is only 12 years old! How amazing is that? I can’t wait to tell the students! You can read more about him on his website here.

2.  Another book I found in Barnes and Noble’s used section, is Amelia’s Notebook. When I found the two books side by side on the shelf, I was ecstatic! About a week ago, I wasimage telling my students about Amelia’s Notebook, because diary books are very popular right now. I told them that it was my favorite series when I was younger, and that I would try to find a few. I’m so happy that I did, and I will definitely be on the lookout for more! Does anyone else remember Amelia?


3. The last book is a book I’ve been reading, and I just can’t wait to tell you about it, even though I haven’t finished yet (halfway through is enough, right?). The book is called The Tipping Point, and I can’t stop talking about it to anyone who will listen. It’s filled with so much interesting information! The author, Malcom Gladwell, works towards explaining the main idea, the so-called Tipping Point (htumblr_ndxb4cMdpC1qawbmqo1_500ow something goes from nonexistent to an epidemic, or trend), through easy to understand sub-categories, and examples. From Hush Puppies, to the decline of the New York City crime rate, to the success of Blue’s Clues, Gladwell covers it all. I can’t wait to finish, then check out more of Gladwell’s books.

What are you reading right now?



Library Book Sales

IMG_9095.JPGYou know the feeling you get when you wander around a Barnes and Noble? You just want to buy everything…until you look at the price tag. 15-25 dollars for a book is outrageous, especially when there are so many less expensive options out there (I’m looking at you amazon!). Today, I decided to go to a book sale at a local library with the intention of buying a few (keyword: few) books for the classroom. Instead, I walked out with 18 books and six of them were for myself. The best part? All together it only cost me $7.40! That’s 18 books for the price of two cups of coffee. I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to turn around and buy more, but the place was packed; it was really awesome to see everyone out buying good old-fashioned books. I will definitely be looking out for more of these sales and if you’ve never been, do some research to find out if a library near you is having one any time soon!

(P.S. You can find the Central Perk mug at Francesca’s!)