May 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Tissue Box Novels for Middle Graders | JLG’s Booktalks to Go

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By the end of the first week of grade one, I was assigned to sit with the teacher. My mom had been called in to see the principal. I assured them my name was Candy. I was having a hard time adjusting to the classroom. This week’s column features books with kids who also had trouble in school. From a young girl who lost her hearing to a boy who struggles to remember his spelling words, the protagonists in these heartwarming middle-grade novels will be ones with which your readers may identify. Selected by the editors at Junior Library Guild, the following works will inspire empathy in young readers. And you may need to stock up on boxes of tissues, too.

El DeafoBELL, Cece. El Deafo. illus. by author. 248p. Abrams/Amulet. 2014. ISBN 9781419710209. JLG Level: GM : Graphic Novels Middle (Grades 5–8).

Losing her hearing isn’t a problem for Cece. It’s how everyone else deals with it that causes her grief. Whether a friend overcompensates or the neighbor girl runs away because of a misunderstanding, Cece bears it all with a sense of humor and a dream for some normalcy in her life. Can she learn that our differences are our superpowers?

Readers can learn more about Bell and her work by visiting her website. She’s also on Twitter and YouTube. NPR and SLJ interviewed her, so be sure to share those articles with your readers. If kids wonder about sign language, use the Wonderopolis lesson, How Can You Speak Without Speaking? You’ll find vocabulary, a video, and a lesson on heroes, like Helen Keller.

Current recognition includes: SLJ Best Books 2014, Middle Grade; Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2014, Middle-Grade Books; PW’s Best Books of 2014, Middle Grade

Absolutely Almost by Lisa GraffGRAFF, Lisa. Absolutely Almost. 304p. Philomel. 2014. ISBN 9780399164057. JLG Level: CE : City Elementary (Grades 2–6).

School is hard for Albie. Really hard. No matter how much he studies, he can’t recall the answers. He can’t even make change for the delivery man. Calista, his new nanny, is determined to encourage him. Making flash cards and giving him counting tasks at the donut shop helps, but Albie has to learn to stand up for himself.

A visit to Graff’s website reveals tons of accolades and news that a companion to her Tangle of Knots (Philomel, 2013) is on the way. You can follow the author on Twitter. Listen to an author interview from Recorded Books. An extensive reading group guide has been developed by fifth grade teacher, Celeste Caso.

Current recognition includes: Best Books of the Year 2014, Ages 9–12; PW’s Best Books of 2014, Middle Grade

rain-reignMARTIN, Ann M. Rain Reign. 240p. Feiwel & Friends. 2014. ISBN 9780312643003. JLG Level: B : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5–7)

Rose is a fan of prime numbers, homonyms, and rules. Her best friend is her dog, Rain, which is also a homonym (reign and rein). When Rain goes missing after a hurricane, Rose and her Uncle Weldon search high (hi) and low for him. Finding the dog at a shelter seems to be the best news in the world, until a phone call changes everything.

Follow the author on Facebook and Twitter. The publisher has created a discussion guide with open-ended questions. Enchanted Learning has an extensive list of homonyms with quizzes that can be used in conjunction with the novel. For tips about working with children who have autism, visit the Center for Spectrum Services.

Current recognition includes: SLJ Best Books 2014, Middle Grade; Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2014, Middle-Grade Books; Best Books of the Year 2014, Ages 9–12; PW’s Best Books of 2014, Middle Grade

BB2014-The-Red-PencilPINKNEY, Andrea Davis. The Red Pencil. illus. by Shane Evans. 336p. Little, Brown. 2014. ISBN 9780316247801. JLG Level: B+ : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5–7).

Amira’s mother has often told her that the Janjaweed will attack without notice. She never dreamed that the terrorists would cause such heartbreak when they did. Not only does the young girl run, she retreats into a world of silence that only the power of a red pencil can break.

Read the praise for her latest title on Pinkney’s website. You can also listen to a snippet of the audiobook, which she narrates. Get the backstory on the plight of children in Sudan in Pinkney’s guest post on the Nerdy Book Club. Fans can follow her on Twitter. An educator’s guide for using the novel-in-verse is available. Read more about the illustrator in an interview posted on The Brown Bookshelf. Resources utilized by the author are included in the LiveBinder tab for the title.

Current recognition includes: SLJ Best Books 2014, Middle Grade; Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2014, Middle-Grade Books

Cartwheeling-in-thunderstormsRUNDELL, Katherine. Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms. 256p. S & S. 2014. ISBN 9781442490611. JLG Level: B : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5–7).

Since her mom’s death, Wilhelmina, known as Will, has been left to her own devices. Beloved by her father, she’s run barefoot on the Zimbabwe ranch, slept in trees, and played with the boys. New circumstances lead to the sale of the ranch, and the end of life as she knows it. Boarding-school-bound, Will struggles to fit in at the private London school. It is going to be difficult to keep her promise to her father—to be good, and brave, and happy.

Watch a publisher-created video of Rundell speaking about her latest novel. Don’t miss the “author revealed” on their website where you’ll learn what word she most overuses. Her publisher posts an excerpt of the heart-warming novel.

Current recognition includes: SLJ Best Books 2014, Middle Grade

Brown Girl DreamingWOODSON, Jacqueline. Brown Girl Dreaming. 336p. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. 2014. ISBN 9780399252518. JLG Level: C : Advanced Readers (Grades 6–9).

February 12, 1963: I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital Columbus, Ohio, USA—a country caught between Black and White. So begins Woodson’s free verse memoir of growing up in Ohio, South Carolina, and New York. In the midst of racial turmoil, Jackie has her own struggles. “Words from the books curl around each other/make little sense until I read them again and again/the story settling into memory.” Reading isn’t easy, but Jackie has stories to tell. She is going to be a writer.

Lucky for us, Woodson was determined and inspired enough to keep trying. Learn more about her work on her website. Follow her on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. Numerous online interviews reveal more about the author. Check out Publisher Weekly’s post-National Book Award Winner interview. The Classroom Bookshelf featured the award-winning title, providing teaching ideas and links to many of the author’s interviews.

Current recognition includes: 2014 National Book Award Winner for Young People’s Literature; SLJ Best Books 2014, Nonfiction; Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2014, Middle-Grade Books; Best Books of the Year 2014, Nonfiction Children’s Books; PW’s Best Books of 2014, Middle Grade

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 (NOTE: JLG is owned by Media Source, Inc., SLJ’s parent company.)

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.