Yesterday we met with a wonderful group of middle-level reading enthusiasts to wrap up our year-long book relay. Teachers first met in their relay teams to discuss the titles they had read throughout the year. A few minutes later, we asked teachers to vote on what title impacted them the most as readers. We gave each person six sticky dots to vote on their favourite title ( 3 for 1st place, 2 for 2nd and 1 for 3rd). Here are the winners:
1st place was Refugee by Alan Gratz
Refugee is a story of three children displaced from their homes (Nazi Germany 1939, Cuba 1994, and Syria 2015) told simultaneously with one of the most beautiful endings we have ever read.
- Although this book was the one that teachers chose to have impacted them the most as readers, many agreed that it took them time to warm up to the characters because of the layout of the book. It cycles through each character telling a bit of their story for a few pages then moves onto the next which can cause some confusion and it takes a bit longer to get lost in the narrative as it changes characters and time periods quickly. One teacher shared that when book talking this title to her students, she made a comparison to a title they had previously enjoyed as a read-aloud involving alternating chapters told by two characters and that Refugee just added a third. We chatted about strategies to share with students involving novels with multiple characters such as checking back in with the character description on the jacket cover, writing down notes, etc.
- Another aspect that we loved was that this novel builds empathy because people are still living in these horrible situations right now around the world, facing discrimination and hate. Teachers agreed this would also be a great book to use in a Social Studies class. One thing that also struck us was the high level of engagement we noticed when our students were reading it. One teacher shared that when she was done reading it, she had five students who read it after her. They loved it so much that when she went to chat with one of them about it, she was “shushed” because a nearby student still reading it hadn’t got to that part yet. As writers, we all agreed that the craft displayed by the author with the ending was spectacular.
2nd place was The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish
A poignant middle-grade novel of friendship and forgiveness; love and loss; wonder and adventure; and ultimately, of hope.
- What really stood out in the discussion about this book was the love of the characters. And not just the main character-all of them! One teacher is using it as a read aloud to end the year with and the students are loving it. All the teachers agreed that once they started reading it, they could not put it down until it was finished! A big motivation to keep reading this book was that you don’t know the secret the main character is keeping inside until towards the end.
3rd place was Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand
A realistic story about a girl named Finley who is wandering through the swampy mess of family, depression, and divorce countered with a parallel fantasy story.
- A lot of teachers shared how they weren’t initially embracing the fantasy sections of the book until about a third of the way through when they realized these interwoven stories gave great insight to what the main character, Finley, was feeling. We talked about Finley’s determination to keep her depression and anxiety hidden because she couldn’t name what she had and how this novel takes topics that can be scary to middle school kids like mental illness and cancer and makes them safe to talk about. It really showed the power of writing and family to heal.
Although these were the three winners, we all agreed that every title was one they wanted in their classroom library. Teachers really appreciated having the opportunity to fill their own book gaps through the relay and are looking forward to next year!