Friday, September 16, 2011

My Teacher Lens

Now that I’m back at the day job (teaching junior high ELA), I find myself looking at books through my teacher lens, and not my writer lens. This is a different view, since the teacher in me looks for books by other authors (not my own books) that elicit great joy in my students as readers. It’s critical that the books I recommend to my students be ones that inspire them to pick up another book. And then another book. And another. And another. Otherwise, if my recommendations are off, that trust is gone and I might end up creating students who don’t want to read. And that’s not cool.

I’m very well-read when it comes to MG and YA, so it’s often rather easy for me to recommend books to my students. I even offer my own copies as well. Last year I was loaning my copies of HUNGER GAMES and MAZE RUNNER to students. I had more than a few students salivating for future books in the series. That’s pretty darn cool to see: students getting “into” reading based on books I got “into” myself. I just handed off a list of about 20 books that weren’t in our library to our librarian and told her, “These books are ones that hook young readers, so we need them.” Books by my fellow Mayhemers were included on this list, along with books that we’ve reviewed over the last year or so (by the way, I have a book review coming up on September 28th for a book called RETURN TO EXILE, by E.J. Patten, so look for that). 

When I recommend books to students, first I’ll ask them for books they enjoyed in the past. That helps me come up with comps that I can recommend. For example, if a student says he liked ARTEMIS FOWL, I can guess he might dig FABLEHAVEN, or perhaps the GREGOR series. If a student says she likes the TWILIGHT books, I might recommend P.C. and Kristin Cast’s books or Heather Brewer’s VLADIMIR TOD books, which I personally favor over Meyer’s books. If a student likes Mike Lupica’s sports books, I might recommend Tim Green’s sports books. Then there are those books that I just recommend to all my students because I love them: like EMERALD ATLAS and the CIRQUE du FREAK series (underrated series, in my opinion).

So now I turn to you to help my students. If you’d be so kind, give me your recommendations, perhaps the top 5 in any MG or YA genre (like your “Top 5 YA Paranormal” or your “Top 5 MG Fantasy”) and I’ll pull these recommendations and pass them along to my students. Make them good, though. My students’ reading future depends on YOU!


  1. A top three recent reads, MG Fantasy

    Wildwood-Meloy, Colin (loved this! great for fans of C.S. Lewis, Roald Dahl, Mysterious Benedict Society even...all rolled into one)
    Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes-Auxier, Jonathan (thinking fans of Septimus Heap, Magic Thief)
    Mostly True Story of Jack-Barnhill, Kelly (Fablehaven fans, Savy, Magic Thief)

  2. Top 5 YA novels (mostly for boys, but really universal):

    The Marbury Lens, by Andrew Smith
    Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi
    Open Wounds, by Joe Lunievicz
    Ghost Medicine, by Andrew Smith
    The Deathday Letter, by Shaun David Hutchinson

    Top 5 YA novels (mostly for girls, but really universal):

    Across the Universe, by Beth Revis
    Possession, by Elana Johnson
    Solstice, by PJ Hoover
    The Liar Society, by Lisa and Laura Roecker
    Shiver, by Maggie Steifvater

    I would have mentioned Hunger Games, but you covered that.

    Top 5 MG novels (I haven't read all of these but my kids love them):

    The Search for Wondla, by Tony DeTerlizzi
    Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes, by Jonathan Auxier (which I reviewed on here)
    The Ranger's Apprentice, by John Flanagan
    Stick, by Andrew Smith (comes out next month)
    The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart and illustrated by Carson Ellis

  3. Here's 3 YA science fiction (loosely defined);
    The Tomorrow Code by Brian Falkner
    Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card
    Black Hole Sun by David Macinnis Gill

  4. Thanks for the good recommendations, everyone. Sounds like I have some good lists to give my students so far. Keep them coming.

  5. Hi Mike,

    Are you familiar with the Cybils Awards (given by book bloggers to kids and YA books in various categories based on the twin criteria of kid appeal and good writing? Do check out the shortlists from the past few years for some of the best books going!

    Here's the link to the 2010 finalists---

  6. Well, I see a lot of good books in the comments. I'll add a few more for contemporary YA.

    We were Here by Matt de la Pena
    Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles
    Right Behind You by Gail Giles
    Deadline by Chris Crutcher
    Last Chance Texaco by Brent Hartinger
    Trapped by Michael Northrop

    I brought about sixty MG and YA novels into my classroom. Five of the above-mentioned books are ones my students picked to read this year after I gave some book talks.

    I give my students a reader survey at the beginning of the year and then try to build my classroom library around their interests.

  7. Charlotte: I was not aware of the Cybils. I checked it out. Very cool. Thanks!

    Paul: de la Pena is awesome. Good mentions.

  8. Hi Mike!

    I taught Middle School ELA and High School English and now I teach tech classes--and my students must read.
    Top YA
    Ghost Medicine--Andrew Smith
    Stick--Andrew Smith (coming soon!)
    Story of a Girl--Sara Zarr
    Harmonic Feedback--Tara Kelly
    Chaos Walking series--Patrick Ness--dystopia/sci-fi--I actually liked this series as a whole better than the Hunger Games
    We Were Here Matt de la Pena
    Hold Me Closer, Necromancer--Lish McBride

    I don't know how strict your district is--I go by the ALA recs for age if anyone asks. I envy you that your library actually has money for books. I supply my classroom library with my books.

  9. My kids tend to go for the silly. Here are a few faves:
    1. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda- Angleberger
    2. Darth Paper returns- Angleberger
    3. Captain Underpants, Ook and Gluk, Ricky Ricotta basically anything by Dave Pilkey
    4. The Name of This Book is Secret Series- Psuedonomous Bosch

    Not silly:
    1. Hugo Cabret- Selznik
    2. The Shifter (series)- Hardy

  10. The top 5 books I read aloud to my class last year:

    No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman
    The Teacher's Funeral by Richard Peck
    Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
    Everlost by Neil Schusterman
    Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

  11. Hmmm....subject to change but:

    Top Ten YA (in no particular order):
    1. Marbury Lens - Andrew Smith
    2. Shiver - Maggie Stiefvater
    3. Invincible Summer - Hannah Moskowitz
    4. If I Stay - Gale Foreman
    5. Split – Swati Avasthi
    6. Ink Exchange - Melissa Marr
    7. Stick - Andrew Smith
    8. Break - Hannah Moskowitz
    9. White Cat - Holly Black
    10. Compulsion – Heidi Ayarbe

  12. Wow--there are a lot of great books on these lists!! I'm glad to hear you recommend The Emerald Atlas, Mike. I keep hearing great things about it, and it's next on my personal middle-grade to-read list, so this makes me look forward to it even more :)

  13. Kristen: I read and loved MARBURY LENS, but haven't read GHOST MEDICINE or STICK. I'll make sure I read them when I get the chance. My district isn't too strict, and I have free reign in choosing books for the most part. Like I said, though, for me it comes down to what books we hook the students and make them readers beyond that one book.

    Robyn: Love Angleberger.And loved HUGO CABRET. Have you read WONDERSTRUCK yet?

  14. Dianne: I have not read any books by Oppel yet, but have been intrigued by the sound of his books. I take it I'm missing out? Oh, and I love Gordon Korman.

    Helene: Looks like we have a lot of Andrew Smith fans. I definitely have to read his other books since I like MARBURY so much. And kind of similar with Moskowitz because I've read BREAK but not her others (I think she just had a MG come out, right?).

    Dawn: Yes, bump EMERALD ATLAS up to the front of the line. You'll love it.

  15. My YA with MG cross under potential:
    1. The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade (3 books): Steampunk adventure
    2. The Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan (10 books?) Fantasy adventure
    3. The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfield (3 books)

    I'm also reading Ship Breaker and it is BLOWING me away!

  16. John: I haven't read the LEVIATHAN books but my students do and love them. Same with RANGER'S APPRENTICE. And we just added SHIP BREAKER to our 8th grade list so I can use that as a class book this year! Excited about that.

  17. Here are my MG recommendations:
    MAY B.

  18. I just read an ARC of Marissa Meyer's CINDER, and it was great! It's pitched as YA, but I think it could totally work for MG readers who like fairy-tale retellings with just a hint of romance.

  19. And Hilary - haha! YES! All the Mayhem-ers books. ;)

  20. Nice, Hilary! Hope to have a couple of my own to add to that stellar list!

  21. Marissa: I'll have to watch for that one. Thanks.

  22. I'm most familiar with contemporary YA. These were my favorite books to suggest to students; they often became favorite books for my students as well.

    Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

    Right Behind You by Gail Giles (a good one for both reluctant and struggling readers)

    That Was Then, This Is Now by S.E. Hinton

    Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford (there is also a sequel)

    The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (Mystery; considered a tough one by many)

    The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

    Boot Camp by Todd Strasser

    Cut by Patricia McCormick (controversial)

    Go Ask Alice by Anonymous (controversial)

    Rumble Fish by S.E. Hinton


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!