Monday, April 18, 2016

Five Must Read Tween Fiction Novels

I've been lucky enough to have a several amazing tween fiction books come into my hands in the past few weeks.  I have loved each one, and am always surprised that as I start a new novel it is often even better than the one before it (if that's even possible).

The World From Up Here by Cecelia Galante 
Wren is a worrier.  She is scared of lots of stuff- horses, airplanes...and especially of Witch Weatherly who lives on Creeper Mountain near their town, Sudbury.  

Wren's mom is having a tough time, not able to cope with the death of her dad, and not very successfully dealing with depression. So, when she is taken to a hospital for treatment and Wren's dad goes with her, Wren and her brother, Russell, stay with their aunt and cousin, Silver.

Even though Silver and her mom are family, they don't know each other well, having lived far apart until just recently.  Silver seems to have it all - she is beautiful and popular and Wren doesn't think the two will be friends.

But Silver is also kind.  She is able to help Wren face some of her fears.

When Silver decides to interview Witch Weatherly and climb Creeper Mountain despite her mother forbidding it, Wren goes along with her.  And Wren has to face her fears head on as the two girls are confronted with some terrifying situations.

The trip is more important than either girl realizes at first, as Witch Weatherlyk holds the secret to Wren's mom's past and her future.

Galante has created a fantastic story. There is suspense which kept me reading as I wanted to know the connection between Witch Weatherly and Wren's mom.  I liked how Wren was able to learn and grow as a person.  The focus on friendship is also fantastic.  

The World From Up Here will make a fantastic read aloud, a great selection for my teacher's to use with literacy circles, and is one I am anxious to recommend to my upper elementary students to enjoy on their own.

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan

This novel in verse is fantastic in so many ways.  I enjoyed reading it by myself, but the educator in me has already made a list for ways this book can be used in the classroom.

A group of fifth grade students take turns writing poems/journal entries about their fifth grade year.  Each page is a different student writing. The poems on each page are in different forms, some easily recognizable as poems because of their rhyming and others a lesser known format. A thumbnail portrait of the student along with the title of the writing is given on each page.

Through these writings we learn that Emerson Elementary is going to be torn down and the students will have to go to a different middle school. The students work hard to save their school, signing petitions and presenting their arguments to the Board of Education.  The land on which the school now sits will be turned into a grocery store, something the neighborhood is lacking.  

Although the school's future is the main focus of this novel, we also learn more about each student: George, whose father and mother are separated,;Mark whose father passed away, Gaby whose writing changes from Spanish to English over the course of the year; friend drama, and other bits and pieces that make up the inner workings of a class. 

I already loved this book, but was especially excited to see there is a section of information about the types of poems in this book along with some writing suggestions. This a great addition to the growing collection of novels in verse and provides many possibilities for educators to use this in their teaching.

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Set in Pennsylvania in 1943, Annabelle and her family live a quiet life on their farm.  The neighbors arrival of their granddaughter, Betty, changes everything for Annabelle and she quickly grows up as she learns that bad things can happen to good people.

Betty quickly targets Annabelle and bullies her, finding her on their walk to school to demand Annabelle give her things.  At first Annabelle tries to deal with Betty on her own, but Betty's cruelty doesn't stop and when Annabelle's friend Ruth is hurt, Annabelle tells her parents of Betty's meanness.

Unfortunately, things begin to spiral out of control.  Betty decides to blame a local man, Toby, for Ruth's accident and even plants evidence in the smokehouse where he lives.

Toby is an odd sort. He fought in a war and has the physical scars to prove it.  He is a loner, taking pictures of nature, and has no real friends outside of Annabelle and her family.

When Betty goes missing, it is Toby who is blamed for her disappearance.  Annabelle tries her best to protect her friend, but the men in the community are on a man hunt for Toby and have even brought in the blood hounds.

This is a hard story to read.  Even though I could see a tragic ending coming, I was hopeful that there would be a happily ever after.  And yet, Wolk's ending is perfect.  I will be thinking about this novel for a long time.  

It Ain't So Awful Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas

I fell in love with Firoozeh Dumas' first book Funny in Farsi several years ago and have thought of it often.  This is Dumas' first foray into fiction - and tween fiction at that- and I was not disappointed.

This novel is semi-autobiographical, and Dumas does a great job of adding humor to the story of Zomorod's attempt at helping her parents Americanize themselves.  Her family is from Iran and her father has taken an engineering job in America, a temporary position before they return to their native country.

Zomorod changes her name to Cindy in an attempt to fit in and finds some good friends in her new school in Newport Beach, California.  While she is enduring her middle school years the Iranian hostage crisis takes place, and Iranians living in the U.S. are subjected to feelings of hate as the hostage crisis drags on.

I loved the way in which Dumas recalled life during the 1970s and the pop culture references that took me back a few decades. I loved the way Dumas' story mirrored that of her own life, which I feel familiar with since reading her other work, and I loved the way she was able to teach about the immigrant experience and the Iranian hostage crisis in a believable and interesting way.

This is a great read for tween readers. I had a hard time putting this book down and spent much of they day curled up on the couch with it.

Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

This is a tween novel told by Joe and Ravi in alternating chapters. Ravi is new to the United States. Although he speaks English, his accent is hard to understand and his ability to pick up on non-verbal cues at school place him at a disadvantage.  

Joe is in the same class as Ravi and sits right behind him.  He has been picked on by another student for years and suffers from APD, auditory processing disorder.  Although he is pulled out for some additional assistance by resource room teacher, he is far from stupid.

Both boys have initial perceptions of each other that aren't correct.  Over time the two develop an appreciation for the skills that the other has and a realization that the assumptions they made about each other need to be altered.

There are a lot of great discussion topics in this book: the idea of judging people by appearance, by first impression, assuming things about others.  This would make a fantastic read aloud and is a must buy for school libraries.

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