May 28, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Must-Read Middle School Book Club Novels │ JLG’s Booktalks to Go

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What would you do if your family was the only one with a fallout shelter and you heard the sirens? Or your mom needs money to save the family restaurant? Or you promised to follow orders no matter what, even if you know they are morally wrong? The characters in this week’s selections face these and other hard questions. After reading the following titles, selected by the editors at Junior Library Guild, your students won’t need much prompting for discussion. Continue reading to see ideas and resources for using these books with your book clubs or share them with your teachers. Check out the new LiveBinder, which puts all these resources into one space.

True Blue ScoutsAPPELT, Kathi. The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. S&S/Atheneum. 2013. ISBN 9781442421059. JLG Level: B+ : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5–7). No one in recent history has ever seen the Sugar Man. It’s been quiet in the swamp for centuries. Raccoon brothers Bingo and J’miah take their new responsibility as True Blue Scouts seriously. With the approach of the Farrow Gang—the baddest gang of wild hogs in history—it appears they’re about to be under siege. The swine are after the sugar cane, but the Paradise Pies Café needs it too and will go out of business without it. Sonny Boy Beaucoup is already after the land; the owners need a boatload of cash to save their restaurant. It looks like it’s time to wake the Sugar Man, but who wants to incur his wrath?

Add canebrake rattlers, an alligator wrestler, and the mystery of an ivory-billed woodpecker, and you have an amazing non-stop action read aloud. The chapters are short and alternate among the different storylines, adding to the tension of the tall tale. You might begin by showing the book trailer and visiting the author’s website. A teacher’s guide is also available on Appelt’s site. Kids will probably want to know if there really are ivory-billed woodpeckers, so you can visit the National Geographic site and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife site. For information about Texas swamps, try Texas Parks & Wildlife.


Serafina's PromiseBURG, Ann E. Serafina’s Promise. Scholastic. 2013. ISBN 9780545535649. JLG Level: B : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5–7). Going to school is probably not the dream of most children, but for Serafina, it’s her first step to being a doctor. Living in a rural village in Haiti, her small family hardly has money to buy food. Purchasing books and a school uniform is a luxury they can’t afford. Determined to find a way, the family plants a garden, selling herbs and produce in the city. Little by little the money jar fills. It isn’t going to be easy; nothing in her life ever is. “Education is the road to freedom,” her grandfather said. Serafina made a promise to him that neither poverty, earthquake, nor flood can wash away. “Life is hard, but no matter what happens, we beat the drum and we dance again.”

Burg’s second novel was inspired by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. After research, she concluded that Haiti is a country that is stronger than its problems. Serafina’s Promise allows the reader to empathize with the tragedy and poverty known to Haiti’s children. In a country where it is common to have a “house for a car,” as the title character would say, readers will root for the young girl whose house is swept away by rising waters. As kids read through the novel in verse, they will want to know more about the author, so you may want to visit her website. A former English teacher, Burg has also shown how her book aligns with CCSS standards. Scholastic has prepared a discussion guide and it includes an in-depth interview with the author. In that conversation, Burg explains that part of the proceeds from book sales will go to the Haitian People’s Support Project and Pure Water for the World. For students who want to know more about this catastrophe in Haitian history, try Encyclopedia Britannica, which has a Year in Review, 2010.


FalloutSTRASSER, Todd. Fallout. Candlewick. 2013. ISBN 9780763655341. JLG Level: C : Advanced Readers (Grades 6–9). It’s 1962. Every day at school you hear rumors of attack by the Russians. Bombs are coming! Your teachers train you to duck under your desk. You learn to cover your face with your arms to protect you from nuclear fallout. Your father prepares for the worst by building a bomb shelter. Food and water, along with emergency supplies, will keep your family protected until it’s safe to come out. People laugh at your doomsday attitude. Then the sirens go off. Your family of four heads for the shelter. The problem is that your family has the only shelter. Can you really shut everyone out, knowing that outside will surely lead to death? If you let them in, food for four will have to be shared among more. How long can your family last then? Don’t miss Fallout, a what-if tale that asks the really hard questions.

Author Todd Strasser uses his personal experience to create an end-of-the-world historical revision tale about the Cuban Missile Crisis. On his website, he shares his personal pictures of his family fallout shelter. An official Fallout website has great resources including a tab on memories of 1962 (with a link to the Duck and Cover movie). The Candlewick book page features curated links to multiple resources. Be sure to listen to the audiobook sample and check out the ready to use discussion guide. You might also view Jenny Sawyer’s Book of the Week. While it’s not a book trailer, it will surely get your student’s interested in reading the novel. Pair this title with The Fire-Eaters (Delacorte, 2004) by David Almond; Rex Zero and the End of the World (Farrar, 2007) by Tim Wynne-Jones or Countdown (Scholastic, 2010) by Deborah Wiles. Check out Wiles’s Countdown Resources Board on Pinterest.


BrotherhoodWESTRICK, A. B. Brotherhood. Viking. 2013. ISBN 9780670014392. JLG Level:  C : Advanced Readers (Grades 6–9). It’s been three years since the War Between the States ended, yet the Southerners in Richmond still feel like they’re under siege. The Yankees control the Reconstruction era, keeping law and order. Freed slaves now walk the streets and compete for jobs of white men. A secret group organizes, vowing to protect the elderly and widowed. When Shad trails his older brother Jeremiah one night, he is forced to join the Brotherhood. Little did he know, the secret group is the Richmond KKK. Falling into an opportunity to learn to read at a Negro school, the young boy decides to take the risk, knowing that going to that school will be dangerous for a white person. Shad begins to agonize over the KKK he swore to follow and what he knows is right. Westrick lives near Richmond, Virginia and walked the streets that led to her wondering about her own Southern ancestors. Readers can find out more about this debut author by reading her website and learn about the craft of writing on  her blog. An excellent historical novel to use in the classroom, there’s also a free discussion guide. Reflecting the attitudes of the period, students will have much absorb on post-war civil rights. Viewing the book trailer also sets the stage for conversation. Be sure to check out the Blendspace page on Brotherhood. It’s an amazing resource in using the title as a collaborative effort.

In an effort to organize these links, I have created a LiveBinder. All websites will be posted within the LiveBinder, along with the accompanying booktalk. As I write more columns, more books and their resources will be added. Simply go to JLG Booktalks to Go where you will see LiveBinder blue tabs. Each blue tab is a book title. Under each blue tab are gray subtabs with links to media, websites, and other related documents. Everything you need to teach or share brand new, hot-off-the-press books is now all in one place. Please visit JLG’s new LiveBinder, JLG Booktalks to Go. For audio/video versions of these booktalks, please visit JLG’s Shelf Life Blog.

Junior Library Guild is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at JLG is owned by Media Source, Inc., SLJ’s parent company.)

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Deborah B. Ford About Deborah B. Ford

Deborah is the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. She is an award-winning teacher librarian with almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools.