• The Spark

The Elementary and Middle School Guide for Back to School Books

Author:  Francie Alexander, Chief Academic Officer, HMH  | 09/16/2016

Student in libraryBack to School season varies greatly as children age; first you drop your child off for the first day or help them board the big yellow school bus and before you know it, you’re watching your high school senior drive themselves to school on their last first day of high school. This is my final post of a two-part series on back to school books; my recommendations for younger learners are available here.

Upper Elementary

Primary and early middle school are times when children think more about who they are and who they are becoming and in turn are more introspective. These recommendations are chapter books, but I think children at this stage benefit from being read to, as well as benefit from reading independently. Reading a chapter a night or taking turns reading a chapter continues the process of bonding with books.

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary

The protagonist is troubled and starts to work things out for himself by writing an author he admires. He asks a lot of questions and the author uses a few key questions to get the boy thinking about himself and his situation. Writing becomes a very important subject at these grade levels and I think this will motivate students to write more to learn more about themselves and the world.

I Am Drums by Mike Grosso

This book trends to the higher end of the age range as it takes place in middle school. Sam the protagonist is passionate about playing the drums. But family relationships, money challenges and other obstacles get in her way. The reader will be rooting for her.

Middle School

This may be the most significant transition in schooling that students make. Adolescents are going through big changes and middle school is a whole new scene. Books can help students understand that others have made it through this time and that they may be able to not only survive it but also thrive.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

While we often think about the issues of being an adolescent, we need to also take note of the idealism displayed by these kids. They want to make a difference and can find a role model in Malala who struggled to get an education. This autobiography may get students to put more value on their own education.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

This YA novel has two compelling characters, a student and his teacher, and takes place in the Vietnam era. Kids will have the chance to engage in perspective - taking and learn that it's important to take time to get to know someone. Also they may get interested in Shakespeare.

Books help us hold up mirrors to help us better understand ourselves and open windows on the world. They also can be the spark that gets the school year going in a positive way. Happy reading!

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