Graphic Novel Greatness

sandIf you’ve finished the latest graphic novel in the Amulet series (Kazu Kibuishi), and you desperately need to find another series to read (waiting for the next Amulet book to come out is really hard), then try the Five Worlds series. It’s another example of graphic novel greatness!  This series is really popular with my fifth grade and middle school students.

What is it? The Sand Warrior, by Mark Siegel

Why should I read it? If you love “epic quests” and graphic novels, definitely get your hands on The Sand Warrior. Three friends learn that your weakness may actually be your strength, as they set out on a quest to save the five worlds. The art work is beautiful, and, along with the compelling story, will whisk you away to another world. As soon as you finish this one, you’ll be ready for Book 2.  (Book 3 will be published in May, 2019)

Who is it for?  fourth grade and up; anyone who loves a great graphic novel


Track Stars

We’ve all seen the ugly side of youth sports- devastating injuries; a “win at any cost” attitude; athletes whose emotional and academic needs are not met or even considered. If only youth sports could be like the track team in Jason Reynolds’ “Track Series”. If only every kid could have a coach like Coach Otis. I think this series should be required reading for every youth coach out there.

The last two books in the “Track Series” are out, and if you loved the first books in the series as much as I did, then you will be thrilled to read the new ones, and very, very sad to know the series has concluded.

sunnyWhat is it? Sunny, book three in the series

Why should I read it?  Sunny runs the 1600 meter faster than anyone, which is a problem, because even though he loves being on the track team, he doesn’t like running. This third book in the series is written entirely as Sunny’s diary entries, and, once again, Reynolds has created a unique, believable character with a distinctive voice. We follow Sunny as he deals with his own grief (and that of his father) over his mother’s death, as he finds a new place on the track team, and as he learns that throwing a discus has a lot in common with his real love- dancing.

Who is it for? fifth grade through middle school- you don’t need to be a runner to enjoy these books.

LuWhat is it?  Lu, the final book in the series.

Why should I read it? Lu is probably as close as an author can come to having a perfect ending to a series. Reynolds weaves in stories and characters from the first three books, and brings all of them together again in an emotional and uplifting ending. This book touches on drug addiction and the effects of bullying in a way that is appropriate even for fifth graders. It is as deeply moving, funny, and inspiring as the first three books. You don’t have to read the series in order, but it will have the biggest impact if you do. (Ghost, Patina, Sunny, Lu)

Who is it for? If you’re a fifth grade or middle school teacher, these are great books for literature circles. (fifth grade through middle school)

Dream Big

dreamersWhat is it? Dreamers, by Yuyi Morales

Why should I read it?  This beautiful picture book is Yuyi Morales’ own immigration story of how she came to the United States from Mexico with her infant son. I can’t think of a more timely and important book to share with children right now. One of my favorite pages has drawings of books in a library- it’s fun to look for books you know and love, and even more fun to watch children point with excitement when they see a drawing of a favorite book. Dreamers is about the power of books, and the power of language (every language) to connect us, and to help us tell our own stories.

Who is it for?  Everyone!  Yuyi Morales’ illustrations are absolutely stunning, and, along with her spare, poetic writing, make this a perfect read-aloud. Dreamers is also available in Spanish- Soñadores

Safe Harbors

51bxqpyzoel._ac_us218_Here’s a novel that will make you think of all those friends you may not see or talk to for months, but who you know are there if you need them; the friends who tell you to call no matter how late it is- and they really mean it; the friends who help you keep your perspective, who make you laugh when you thought you could only cry; the ones who hold your hand when you just need a hand to hold. After I finished Harbor Me, I was left with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for all the people in my life who have been safe harbors for me. If the news cycle over the past two years has been as depressing and upsetting to you as it has been to me, then get your hands on this book as fast as possible.  It will remind you to say “thank you” to your safe harbors, and inspire you to be a safe harbor for someone else.

What is it? Harbor Me, by Jacqueline Woodson

Why should I read it?  In Harbor Me, six fifth graders are left alone to talk once a week in the old art room of their school. (They call it the ARTT Room- a room to talk.) I’ve read some reviews that have expressed skepticism that fifth graders would talk to each other the way they do in this book. I disagree. I think Jacqueline Woodson has a deep respect for children, and an understanding that kids have a lot to say when someone is actually listening. At first the girls sit separately from the boys, and no one really knows what to say, but gradually they begin to share their stories, and eventually the ARTT room becomes a place where they can talk and be heard, and where they all learn to be a safe harbor for each other. Ms. Woodson’s writing makes us care about the characters, so much so that it’s hard to stop turning the pages. There is a slow building suspense (where is Esteban’s dad? Will Haley ever tell her story?), moments of humor, and, most importantly, encouragement- that each of us can be a safe harbor for others.

Who is it for? Harbor Me is a beautiful book that I wish every middle school student  could read. If you’re a language arts teacher, this is a perfect book for teaching the power of a metaphor. (strong fourth grade readers through middle school)


Art + Humor = High Interest Reading

pet escapeWhat is it? The Great Pet Escape, by Victoria Jamieson (author of Roller Girl)

Why should I read it? If you know of any upper elementary students who need a good laugh, this is the book!  The Great Pet Escape is hilarious!  A classroom hamster, “GW” (because being named “George Washington” is just too embarrassing), figures out how to escape from his “jail”, and sets off to rescue his friends Barry (a bunny), and Biter (a tough guinea pig), from cell block 1, also known as first grade, and kindergarten, or “the worst cell block in the school”. Barry tries to prepare GW for the shock of seeing what has happened to Biter in kindergarten she now goes by the name “Sunflower”, realizes she has anger issues, and enjoys sharing feelings and doing yoga. The three friends plot an elaborate escape, but end up trying to protect the students of Daisy P. Flugelhorn Elementary from the evil plan of Mouse Harriet and her Mouse Minions.

Who is it for? This is best for upper elementary students (level R- fourth grade reading level), but younger students will enjoy it too.

margoWhat is it?  The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo, by Drew Weing

Why should I read it? Charles has moved to Echo City and is living in a run-down apartment building that his parents have agreed to repair in exchange for living rent free. His first night in his new room he discovers, to his horror, that there is a monster in his closet.  Fortunately, he soon meets Kevin, who knowingly gives him a business card for Margo Maloo, Monster Mediator.  After helping Charles with his bedroom monster,  Margo Maloo shows Charles how she mediates all the other monster problems in the neighborhood. I love the characters and the humorous dialogue in this book- and the  detailed drawings by Drew Weing are so much fun to look at.

Who is it for? A fun, short graphic novel for fourth grade through middle school.  (The sequel, Monster Mall, is coming in the Fall)

Moving Middle Grade Novels

starsWhat is it? Every Soul a Star, by Wendy Mass

Who is it for? Fifth grade through middle school (Level U; fifth grade reading level)

Why should I read it? Every Soul a Star is told from the point of view of three different characters. Mass is able to make each character believable, with his or her own distinct voice and perspective.  At the beginning of the book you’ll know exactly where it’s going – three middle school age characters (Ally, Bree, and Jack) with nothing in common, are brought together at a campsite to view the solar eclipse. A few chapters in and you won’t care that you know where it’s going, you’ll be so caught up in each character’s arc, the descriptions of the stars and the eclipse, and the realistic ways the characters deal with change and loss.  This is a great summer read for fifth grade through middle school.  I guarantee you’ll want to look up at the stars after reading this one.

elevenWhat is it? Eleven, by Tom Rogers

Who is it for? Fifth grade through middle school

Why should I read it? I wasn’t sure I’d be able to read Eleven, but I’m so glad I did.  I’ve given it to three middle school students so far, and they all had the same reaction – it’s sad, but really good, and you can’t put it down.  There’s a reason people like learning about history by reading historical fiction.  A story can bring history to life in a way that a history text-book rarely can. Eleven tells the story of Alex, who rescues a stray dog, crosses paths with bullies, and turns eleven, all on 9/11.  There’s something about viewing this day through the eyes of an eleven year old that reveals not only the incredible sadness and loss, but also the humanity, and the way people come together to help each other in times of tragedy.  At only 193 pages, and with very short chapters (some only a few paragraphs long), this is a fast read that leaves a big impact.

Bounce Back!

rebound 2A friend of mine told me her fourteen year old son refused to read a book unless it was assigned by his high school English teacher.  I suggested she give him Kwame Alexander’s latest book, Rebound.  She took my copy, and told me she would try (she rolled her eyes and sighed when she said the word “try”) to get him to read it on their summer vacation. When I saw her after their vacation, she showed me a photo of her son standing by their rental car, which was parked in front of a beach on the island of Oahu, reading Rebound. Apparently he had started reading the book on the drive to the beach, and then couldn’t put it down. He finally got out of the car (it was hot), but still couldn’t stop reading. He just stood there reading and reading, even as she took a photo of him reading (this would normally not be appreciated by him), until his family finally coaxed him to at least walk with the book over to the beach. Thank you, Kwame Alexander.

What is it? Rebound, by Kwame Alexander

Who is it for? fourth grade through high school  (also adults)

Why should I read it? If you know someone who needs to rebound from a big disappointment, a loss, a failure, or from missing the game-winning shot, this is the book to get in their hands.  Rebound is 414 pages, but will take only a few hours to read because it’s written entirely in free verse, and because you won’t be able to stop reading once you start. If you’re looking for a book that will make you laugh and cry, and leave you filled with hope and wanting to read it all over again, this is the book.  It’s probably best to read Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover first, but not absolutely necessary.  But definitely read this book- and get it into the hands of any and every “reluctant reader” you know.

TMI (Too Much Information)

truthLately I’ve been thinking that adults need this book more than kids. I think all of the adults out there who didn’t grow up with instant access to information (I’m one of them) should pick up this book and give it a try.  Then we should pass it on to all the kids in our lives to give them a helping hand with sifting through the mountain of information that is always at their fingertips- is it the truth? a lie? some confusing mixture of both? One of the most important lessons we all need to learn and remember is that just because it’s on the internet, or written in an article, or broadcast on TV, doesn’t mean it’s true.

What is it? Two Truths and a Lie, by Laurie Ann Thompson and Ammi-Joan Paquette

Who is it for? Upper elementary students to adults (it’s fun!)

Why should I read it? We should all read it. It’s a fun way to teach critical thinking.

Each section of Two Truths and a Lie has three stories- two are true, and one is a lie.  Which one is the lie?  It’s fun to read all three stories, try to guess, and then do some research (and critical thinking!) to figure out the truth.  One sixth grader I used this book with exclaimed, “This one is true!  It has photos!”  After doing some reading detective work he was shocked to find out it was the lie.  To make things even more challenging, when you google some of these stories the first thing to come up is either a website or photo that looks factual, but is actually a hoax. If you’re a teacher, the layout of the book makes it easy to use with a class or small group- lots of interesting photos and drawings. Read the three stories together, and then assign groups of students to research each one. Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson have included excellent research tips at the end of the book on using internet search engines (they don’t have a “truth filter”), checking sources, using the library, asking questions, and using your own logic.

Jada Jones Rock Star (as in graphite…quartz…granite…)

What is it? Jada Jones Rock Star, by Kelly Starling Lyons

Who is it for?  strong second grade readers, and third/fourth grade readers

Why should I read it?  Jada loves collecting and studying rocks, and is trying to make new friends now that her best friend (and fellow rock enthusiast) has moved away. This is a perfect book for students new to chapter books, who need a story that moves quickly, with characters they can relate to.  So far Kelly Starling Lyons has two books in the series. (Jada Jones Class Act is the second book).  My students love these books, and so do I!  I’m hoping there will be many more in the series.

**It really frustrates me that books like the Jada Jones series are not prominently displayed in more bookstores. I would love to walk into a bookstore and find them displayed on a table, and stocked on the shelves.  (How is it possible that the  Dyamonde Daniel series, by Nikki Grimes isn’t stocked on bookstore shelves?!)  Kelly Starling Lyons also writes on the blog “The Brown Bookshelf” ( which is “designed to push awareness of the myriad Black voices writing for young readers”.  It’s an excellent resource if you want to find more books that are authentically diverse like Jada Jones.


“A Mighty Woman with a Torch”- and a Mighty Woman with a Magic Pencil

What is it?  Her Right Foot, by Dave Eggers

Who is it for? A timely read aloud for all ages; anyone who is visiting the Statue of Liberty; a great book for your coffee table

Why should I read it? I had the thrilling experience of visiting the Statue of Liberty not that long ago. I walked around her, climbed up to her crown, but didn’t even notice her right foot. Dave Egger’s book is filled with fascinating, and little known, facts about the Statue of Liberty.  I wish I had read this book before I visited her! Egger’s book has wonderful illustrations (Shawn Harris), and a timely message about what the Statue of Liberty represents, as revealed by her right foot.

What is it? Malala’s Magic Pencil, by Malala Yousafzai

Who is it for? A wonderful read-aloud for first grade and up; third graders and up will love to read it independently.

Why should I read it? Malala Yousafzai’s inspiring, well-known story is perfectly told to young children in this beautifully written book. I was so impressed with how simply and clearly Malala Yousafzai tells her story. Her words, and the wonderful illustrations that accompany them, will keep you turning the pages, and leave you feeling hopeful and inspired.