I'm coming to terms with the fact that reading kidlit is just my favorite thing, and that I don't only do it for research purposes. Middle grade novels are my happy place, and there is SO MUCH GOOD STUFF OUT THERE! Sorry for shouting, it's just that I want to read (and share) all the books. That said, here's some of what I've gotten into so far this summer.
One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia (GRL T, 4th-6th grade interest, with some more mature topics that younger students would need some teaching through)
Since I have the best best friend (and fellow teacher), I can brag that my copy of this book is autographed by the amazing author. However, my best friend gets to brag that she MET Rita Williams-Garcia when she visited our local independent bookstore, so maybe she wins, but I'm still super lucky.
One Crazy Summer takes place in the summer of 1968. Sisters Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern are making the long trip from Brooklyn to Oakland, California to spend the summer with their mother, who they haven't seen since Fern was a baby. It's a story of challenges, adventure, and growth for the three girls, while also weaving in the climate of civil rights and black liberation that they're living in. The girls find themselves at a People's Center run by the Black Panthers, which plays a major role in their summer experience. I highly recommend this; it's beautifully written, in a way that's both sophisticated and so true to the voice of eleven year old Delphine and her younger sisters. Younger readers would need a bit of support with some of the historical content and language (for example, the period use of 'colored' and 'Negro' throughout), but will find lots to relate to in these characters.
P.S. Be Eleven, by Rita Williams-Garcia (GRL W, 4th-6th grade interest)
P.S. Be Eleven picks up right where One Crazy Summer leaves off, with Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern traveling home from their summer in Oakland with their mother. Their next year includes Delphine navigating 6th grade, the girls navigating their father's new romance, the family navigating their young uncle's return from Vietnam...and a newfound adoration of the Jackson 5. This sequel includes a bit less historical context, although it does get into women in politics, and the great Shirley Chisholm makes an (offstage) appearance. If you got invested in Delphine and her sisters in One Crazy Summer, you'll definitely want to continue following their story.
There's a third book in the series, too: Gone Crazy Alabama. I haven't gotten my hands on it yet, but I'm pretty confident it will stand up alongside its predecessors.
Amina's Voice, by Hena Khan (GRL S, 4th-6th grade interest)
Oh, this lovely book. It just came out this year, and has gotten some attention in cool places like The Ed Collab, as well as from Scholastic, where it was a featured book in their We Need Diverse Books special flier. (Side bar, apparently the flier isn't included in the September 2017 list...so that's something to look into.) Anyway! Amina's story takes us into her life at her diverse middle school, at home with her Pakistani-American family, and at her mosque and Islamic Center, in her suburban Wisconsin town. Hena Khan's characters are complex and three-dimensional, and bring you right into their lives. I think that my Muslim students will love Amina's Voice in a special way. They'll be over the moon to see some of their religious and cultural experiences reflected in a main character like this, while kids from different backgrounds will get drawn into Amina's relatable and engaging story...and honestly be just as excited about the book.
Museum Mysteries: The Case of the Missing Museum Archives, by Steve Brezenoff (GRL approximately O, by my estimate, 2nd-4th grade interest)
This mystery series is awfully cute. It's simple and quick enough that I probably wouldn't use as a class-wide read aloud (books we share a chapter a day, and really dive into, so I like them to be meaty and extremely well-written), but it would be great for independent reading or even guided reading groups. The mystery format would provide some fun practice with using text evidence to make predictions. The series features four friends, all from different backgrounds, each of whom has a parent working in the national museum system. (Somewhat comically to me, the book never mentions The Smithsonian by name, and refers to the location as Capitol City...but the museums all share names with the real Smithsonians.) The kids are thoughtful and all about the museum themes; Amal, the featured character in The Case of the Missing Museum Archives, loves all things space-related. In the first chapter, she confides in her narration that while her dad wishes she would find a better way to keep her headscarves organized, she doesn't really see the point, since she only ever wants to wear the one on the cover, with its night sky full of stars. (Also, yes, I did intentionally choose to start with this book out of the series because it features a girl wearing a hijab on the cover, and I wanted to add it to my library. If you could see my girls' faces every single time they spot an image of someone in a hijab, you would, too.) These paperbacks are pretty inexpensive on Amazon, so I'm planning to go back and get some more of the series.
Writing about practicing literacy and freedom with my small humans.