It’s Monday and Here’s What I’m Reading: October 28th, 2013

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! 
is hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts

It’s book club time in my classroom, which means that I reach into my book collection and share “oldies but goodies.”  These are selections for which I have up to five copies for each title, and since  I have to wait until I can get my hands on paperbacks in order to have enough copies to go around, these are most often books that have been published some time ago.  But, we are lucky as teachers, for even as amazingly wonderful books are published every day, we have an amazingly wonderful collection of such “oldies but goodies” –  titles rich for discussion and enjoyment.  Here are three of my favorites, each of them unique”coming of age stories”:

     
 Kevin Henkes’ Olive’s Ocean is such a perfect book for middle school school.  Its themes of friendship, middle school cliques, and middle school loneliness generate so many meaningful conversations.  Here is a summary from the author’s website:

Martha didn’t know Olive—not really. But when Olive is killed in a hit-and-run accident, and her mother gives Martha a section from Olive’s journal, Martha knows they could have been friends. Now Martha and her family are going to Cape Cod for the rest of the summer, and Olive, who had always wanted to see the ocean, haunts Martha’s thoughts and dreams. 

Martha is your typical “popular girl” – well liked and secure in her social status.  Olive is the girl she sees but does not really see, until the summer after Olive’s accident when one journal entry changes her perspective and opens her eyes.  Henkes allows this story to unfold in a most natural way, and Martha’s journey becomes fodder for deep conversations about middle school life and the way we treat each other, day after day.
Tony Abbott’s Firegirl is also set in  middle school, and deals with similar themes as Olive’s Ocean.  Here’s the  back cover blurb from my copy:

“…there is…” Mrs. Tracy was saying quietly, “there is something we need to know about Jessica…”

From this moment on, life is never quite the same for Tom and his seventh-grade classmates. They learn that Jessica has been in a fire and was badly burned, and will be attending St. Catherine’s while getting medical treatments. Despite her horrifying appearance and the fear she evokes in him and most of the class, Tom slowly develops a tentative friendship with Jessica that changes his life.
Tom’s struggle between doing what his kind heart tells him to do and doing what his classmates expect him to do, makes for a powerful story.  This is another book that invites meaningful discussions in our book clubs.
I love anything by Cynthia Kadohata, as do my kiddos, and Kira Kira is one of our all-time favorites.  Here’s the jacket copy from the author’s website:

Glittering. That’s how Katie Takeshima’s sister, Lynn, makes everything seem. The sky is kira-kira because its color is deep but see-through at the same time. The sea is kira-kira for the same reason. And so are people’s eyes. When Katie and her family move from a Japanese community in Iowa to the Deep South of Georgia, it’s Lynn who explains to her why people stop them on the street to stare. And it’s Lynn who, with her special way of viewing the world, teaches Katie to look beyond tomorrow. But when Lynn becomes desperately ill, and the whole family begins to fall apart, it is up to Katie to find a way to remind them all that there is always something glittering—kira-kira —in the future.

There are so many important themes woven through this book – but the one that moves my sixth graders the most is the way Katie grows as a character and comes to discover strength within herself. There is also an undercurrent of anti-Japanese racism that has led my kids  to important discussions about  this topic: what causes people to behave this way? what can be done about it?  
So, armed with books such as these, we are off to the races with book clubs in room 202.  Lucky us!
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4 thoughts on “It’s Monday and Here’s What I’m Reading: October 28th, 2013

  1. I love Olive's Ocean! I just finished Cynthia Kadohata's new book, The Thing About Luck, and really enjoyed it. I've decided to reread Kira-Kira, which I was only so-so on. I have a feeling I'm going to like it more this time. Some books just need to be read more than once! I haven't read Firegirl yet, but your description is definitely intriguing–it's now on my library list!

  2. I love Olive's Ocean which many of my past students have, too, so thanks for the reminder. I don't know Firegirl-will look for it. I had a student who had a terrible accident one summer, and returned to school missing one arm. We worked with his medical team to help the students get ready, and the boy himself was upfront about it. That was the year we went to Costa Rica & his parents were wonderful about trusting to let him go, & the kids helped always. I wish I had had the book then, Tara! Kira-Kira is one I have enjoyed, but never used in a group-great idea to share now! Thank you!

  3. Somehow, I haven't read any of these books! I've been talking with the 7th grade ELA teacher about finding more coming-of-age novels, and these sound perfect. Thanks so much for sharing, Tara!

  4. Kira Kira is a favourite – it has a very leisurely pace, the language beautiful. I especially love how the topic of immigration has been highlighted here – with such subtlety and truth. There is a very keen eye for human nature and human foibles. Not sure though whether it's a book that my eleven year old would pick out. And of course it made me cry in the end. She just finished reading Wednesday Wars and enjoyed it greatly.Iphigene has reviewed Olive's Ocean but haven't read it myself yet. Firegirl is also new to me, so thanks for sharing that! 🙂

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