April 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Debut Novels for Middle Schoolers│ JLG’s Booktalks to Go

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Joining the ranks of other first-time novelists are a business school graduate, a Katrina survivor, a magistrate, and a Vassar graduate. Writing about adoption, natural disasters, multiple sclerosis, suicide, and demons, these writers explore situations that often trouble many young teens. What happens to me when a family member gets sick or dies? If I argue to have my way and then find I don’t like it, what do I do now? Or who am I if I’m not who I think I am? The following selections by the editors of Junior Library Guild are sure to register with your readers.

NEstEHRLICH, Esther. Nest. Random/Wendy Lamb Bks. 2014. ISBN 9780385386081. JLG Level: B : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5–7).

Chirp’s structured life spirals out of control when her mother is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Nothing is like it was: no Oreos and milk after school, a strange lady appears at her special bird watching spot, and her sister’s emotions surface as anger towards their father. Then Chirp’s mom becomes alarmingly depressed and must be hospitalized. The young girl has no idea that things will get much worse or that she possesses the strength to cope with the crisis.

Ehrlich’s poignant novel may inspire readers to learn about the birds that comfort Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein. Play a bird song matching game at a Cornell University website. The author posts beautiful drawings by jacket artist, Teagan White, accompanied by song clips on her website. Follow Ehrlich on Facebook and Twitter. Today’s artists with disabilities have more resources for fighting depression and success in their craft than the fictional Hannah. Kids Health has an excellent explanation for kids or teens about multiple sclerosis. The Teen version also has several articles about suicide and depression. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has a kids’ newsletter with letters from kids who have parents with the disease.

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere_Front Cover_smLAMANA, Julie T. Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere. Chronicle. 2014. ISBN 9781452124568. JLG Level: B+ : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5–7).

“We all saw it. No one said a word. Everything was going in slow motion. . . . A wall of water. A black rumbling, swirling, groaning wall of water was crashing toward us.” Armani’s 10th birthday party ends with the arrival of the floods caused by Hurricane Katrina. Suddenly, family and survival mean more than making birthday wishes. Nothing has prepared her for the death, hunger, and danger Armani will face.

Though the characters are fictional, tales of death and the horrors faced by the residents of the Lower Nines filled the newspapers. Living in Louisiana at the time of the disaster allowed Lamana to assist with displaced children. Follow her on Facebook. A Common Core teacher’s guide is available from her publisher. Since 2005, numerous teaching resources about Hurricane Katrina are now available. From the National Hurricane Center’s report to articles about rebuilding—such as the one at Time for Kids—kid-friendly resources such as Promethean Planet, Newsela, and Wonderopolis, can be found on the title tab in the JLG BTG Fall 2014 LiveBinder.

Misadventures of the Family FletcherLEVY, Dana Alison. The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher. Delacorte. 2014. ISBN 9780385376549. JLG Level: B : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5–7).

Four boys aged six to 12 and their two dads experience more misadventures in one year than anyone should have to survive. Sam’s number one love is soccer, but then comes a girl, and a play. Jax thinks fourth grade will be great, until his best friend shows up in weird clothes and starts being too busy to play with him. Eli thinks going to Pinnacle School where he can really focus on his studies will be awesome, until he actually attends classes. And Frog who is six starts kindergarten. Life just became more interesting for Papa and Dad, but not so much for the grouchy neighbor next door.

Levy’s first novel showcases a modern family full of love and misfortune. Even her website is charming with FAQs and RAQs (rarely asked questions), as well as Fletcher family outtakes and various versions of her biography. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter. Get a sneak preview on her publisher’s page. Read an interview and see her read from her work on Mr. Schu’s blog.

A Snicker of MagicLLOYD, Natalie. A Snicker of Magic. Scholastic. 2014. ISBN 9780545552707. JLG Level:  B+ : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5–7).

Making new friends, in a new place, when you’re the new girl, is harder than fractions. Felicity Pickle should know. She’s lived in six states and she’s only 12. Driving into her mama’s hometown, she can only hope that for once they’ll settle down. She and her sister need a place to dig in and grow some good memories. Midnight Gulch seems like just the spot. Felicity sees the word “believe” as plain as day. And there is still magic in the town. She feels it shouting, “YES!” in her heart. This is the story of how she turns it loose.

Debut novelist Lloyd writes a magical story that captivates readers from the first sentence, “They say all the magic is gone from this place.” Put up a large piece of bulletin board paper with the title “Words are Magic.” Ask students to write their favorite phrases or passages. Scholastic provides an activity guide with an emphasis on character and vocabulary. Looking for ideas about creating your own student booktalks? Since words are so important to the plot, teachers may want to have their students play with words either in a game or in word clouds―even those that aren’t Wordle. You’ll these resources and more in JLG’s BTG Spring 2014 LiveBinder.

Gabriel's clockPASHLEY, Hilton. Gabriel’s Clock. Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2014. ISBN  9780544301764. JLG Level:  C : Advanced Readers (Grades 6–9).

When you’re 12 years old, you think you know who you are. That’s what Jonathan thought until the day he learned that his parents had spent his whole life hiding from demons who wanted to use him to take control of heaven. Why him? Jonathan is the only child born of an angel (his father) and a demon (his mother). Who knows what powers he possesses? Even his grandfather, the archangel Gabriel cannot be sure. He does know this: Jonathan is in grave danger.

A resident of Norfolk, England, the author, like his characters, fancies a cup of tea and enjoys kite flying, like Cay. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. For the backstory on how the title came to be published, read Pashley’s guest post on The Writer’s Workshop.

Additional Resources

The resources for the above titles have been organized in a new JLG Booktalks to Go: Fall 2014 LiveBinder. Titles are sorted by interest level, PreK-3, 3-6, 5-8, and YA. Check out our award-winning Spring 2014 LiveBinder which organizes resources for spring releases. All websites are posted within each LiveBinder, along with the accompanying booktalk. As I write more columns, more books and their resources are added. Everything you need to teach or share brand new, hot-off-the-press books is now all in one place. Booktalks and resources are also included on JLG’s BTG Pinterest board.

For library resources, tips, and ideas, please visit JLG’s Shelf Life Blog.

Junior Library Guild (JLG) 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 www.JuniorLibraryGuild.com. (NOTE: 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.