Author: Gordon Korman
Publisher/Imprint: Hyperion Paperbacks for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group
Copyright Date: 2007
Plot: Thirteen-year-old Capricorn Anderson, or Cap, and his grandmother Rain are the last two residents at Garland Farms, a commune begun in the 1960s.
Rain home-schools Cap, and though Cap aces the required state exams, he knows nothing about the outside world of television, text messaging, and middle school society.
When Rain falls out of a tree while picking apples, Cap is forced to stay with a foster family in the city while his grandmother recovers. On his first day at middle school, Cap arrives in his usual manner—wearing tie-dyed shirt, jeans, long hair, and corn-husk sandals. So when the principal asks Zach Powers—the most popular boy in school and a football player—to take Cap to his locker, Zach realizes that this is just the person he’s been looking for.
You see, the tradition at Claverage—known by the students as “C-Average”—Middle School has been to pick the biggest nerd in school and get him elected class president, then spend the rest of the year laughing at him as he fumbles through speeches and makes a fool of himself.
And so, Cap finds himself elected president, while Zach and the other popular students make up new ways to torture Cap, such as introducing him to wedgies, scheduling meetings in non-existent rooms, and telling him the president must learn the names of all 1,100 students. Unfortunately for Zach, Cap doesn’t seem to notice anyone is messing with him. Then things really change. While driving his bus route one afternoon, the driver has a heart attack. Cap jumps in the seat and drives the bus to the hospital as police cars chase, signaling Cap to pull over. When they arrive at the emergency room, Cap is arrested in front of the frightened students; he becomes an instant hero.
As class president, Cap is charged with organizing the school dance. He keeps saying he’s never even been to a dance, but when students offer their suggestions, Cap puts them in charge of the various tasks. In addition, he has begun to learn the names of every student he meets, writing their names in a notebook. Cap develops a following, and one of the popular girls actually joins him for morning Tai-chi on the front lawn; soon others follow.
Next, sixty students take part in an impromptu tie-dying session in the school art room. Zach can't stand it: Cap is shaping up to be the best president the school ever had.
Zach has just one more chance to set things right. He stages a prank, but it goes too far, and Cap is injured. Zach’s credibility is zero. Then the next day, Cap is punched in the face—a punch that was meant for Zach. Shortly after the incident, Cap’s grandmother shows up in ambulance to pick Cap up from school; they are finally going back to the farm. Cap leaves without saying goodbye, and the middle schoolers assume the worst: Cap is dead. On the night of the school dance, Cap can’t stand to be away, so he steals a car and drives back to town. Instead of a dance, however, he finds a memorial service in progress—his own!
Key Issues: Middle school society, respecting differences, the 1960s, hippies, individualism, non-conformity, bullying.
Warnings: There is no bad language, only references to middle school pranks, such as wedgies, etc. There is discussion of hippie culture, but not of drug use. Some parents may not like the way Cap assumes the role of a “guru” to the students.
Audience: The audience is middle school boys and girls. In each chapter, a different character narrates the story from his or her own perspective, which should appeal to diverse readers.
Teaching Ideas: 1.) Discuss point of view and how it is used in this novel.
What did Korman achieve by allowing each character to narrate part of the story? Write a journal entry from the point of view of one of the characters in the book. 2.) What is the significance of the title? Who is schooled in the novel, Cap, or the other students? Which characters change the most as a result of the schooling. Discuss in small groups. 3.) Near the end of the novel, the students think Cap is dead. Write a six-word memoir for Cap. 4) Act out a scene from the book.
Author: S. E. Hinton
Publisher/Imprint: Dell Laurel-Leaf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books
Copyright Date: 1979
Plot: Tex, a fourteen-year-old, lives under the supervision and care of his seventeen-year-old brother Mason while their father is away working the rodeo circuit. But their father has been gone longer than ever, and Mason is forced to sell Tex’s horse Negrito—which Tex loves more than almost anything else—to get money for the power bill and groceries. Tex hates his brother for this. But life goes on, and Tex and his best friend Johnny can’t help getting into trouble. The two experience their first hangover and get suspended from school for pulling a prank on the end-of-period test day.
Meanwhile, all the stress of filling in as parent causes Mason to develop an ulcer, and when the two brothers drive home from the hospital in the city, they are carjacked by a wanted murderer not much older than they are. In a bold move, Tex brakes and swerves the truck fiercely, causing the man to flee the vehicle and be shot by police. Tex sees a little of himself in that man.
Then, on the day of Tex’s suspension, Mason confronts his father, and the truth comes out about the reasons for Tex and his father’s awkward relationship. Tex storms out of the school, and he goes with the first person he sees, Lem, a friend of the family a little older than Mason. Tex accompanies Lem on a drug deal, but when it goes sour, Tex is shot. Tex’s brush with death troubles Mason deeply, but it allows for the brothers to reconcile in the end.
Key Issues: Coming of age, brotherhood, poverty, absent parents, drugs, friendship, first love.
Warnings: The novel has some mild profanity—such as “damn,” “hell.” And there is some use of alcohol and drugs, though their use is not portrayed in a positive light.
Audience: 8th-11th grade girls and boys.
1) At the state fair, the fortune teller says, “There are people who go, people who stay. You will stay.” Tex remains mindful of the fortune teller’s words throughout the story and begins to evaluate people in terms of this dialectic. Do you think Tex will stay or go? Write an ending that tells us what happens to Tex following the events in the story.
2) Discuss the ways the author uses realistic dialogue to create credible characters.
3) Ms. Carlson, Tex’s English teacher, asks Tex if he has ever written poetry. Imagine you are Tex and write a poem that Tex would likely write.
Title: Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Journey to Change the World…One Child at a Time (The Young Reader’s Edition)
Author: Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin; Adapted by Sarah Thomson
Publisher/Imprint: Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group
Copyright Date: 2009
Plot: This is the true story of Greg Mortenson, beginning with his failed attempt to climb the world’s second highest peak: K2. After failing to summit K2 in 1993 Greg lost his way descending the mountain only to wind up in a small Himalayan village called Korphe. The first “outsider” to ever set foot in the village, Greg was greeted with kindness and compassion from all members of Korphe. After learning that no school existed in the village, Greg promised his new friends to return as soon as possible to build them a school. Mortenson returned to fulfill his promise, since then building over 60 schools in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. This inspiring story tells of the many struggles Greg has faced while working to bring education to the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as the amazing successes both he and the students of his schools have achieved.
Key Issues: Hope; Peace; bringing about success out of failure; family struggles; not giving up; the importance of education;
Warnings: I have no warnings against this book.
Audience: According to the book it is suitable for children ages 8 and older. Though written in a somewhat juvenile language, the book’s issues are of such relevance in our world today that I would recommend it for students through 12th grade. (There is another version of the book published prior to this edition for adults which could be used with parent permission for older students.)
Teaching Ideas: I think this book would be a wonderful book either for whole-class instruction in a World Lit. class, or as a book club book.
Have students read the book and read/clip articles from the daily news about our interactions with Afghanistan and Pakistan throughout the unit to be read during group meetings or whole class time. Students can read articles aloud or respond to them in journals.
In the interview with Greg Mortenson’s daughter Amira at the end of the book, she describes the importance of having pen pals to help students learn about other cultures. Perhaps link students to pen pals to help achieve this.
Have students create and run a fundraising event (like Pennies for Peace) for the charity of their choice to learn about both the challenges and rewards of doing so. Writing proposal letters could be a great compliment to this lesson while also achieving one of the standards.
Author: Jodi Lynn Anderson
Publisher/Imprint: Harper Trophy of HarperCollins Publishers
Copyright Date: 2005
Plot: Anderson tells the story of three teenage girls as they come of age in a small southern town in the most unlikely of circumstances. Birdie grew up on the orchard and has never known anything but long summers spent picking Georgia’s finest peaches with her mother and father. That is until her mother leaves her father, and the orchard, forever. Leeda is her mother’s second daughter and a mere shadow of the grand spotlight cast upon her older sister Danay. Her only friends are those whom she suspects only like her for her money, and her bad-boy boyfriend, Rex who’s always been there for her (even if for all the wrong reasons.) Murphy lives in a trailer park with her mom Jodee. A rebel at heart, Murphy is always up for mischief even at the expense of friends, potential boyfriends, and a chance at summer freedom. Though Birdie, Leeda, and Murphy may have little in common on the surface, after a summer together on the orchard nothing between them will ever be the same.
Key Issues: Coming of age; Building friendships; First love; Parents’ Divorce; Family Dynamics; Relationships
Warnings: There is some sexual content. The teenage girls also consume alcohol and smoke cigarettes a few times throughout the story.
Audience: I think girls in grades 9-12 would really enjoy this book. In particular, girls in the South would particularly enjoy the Georgia/peaches undercurrent of the book. I would recommend parental permission because of the warnings listed above.
Teaching Ideas: I would recommend this book only for small-group or individual use, rather than whole-class.
Have students choose 1 of the 3 main characters before reading and keep a journal from that character’s point of view while reading. After completing the book students can discuss/compare journal entries from different events throughout the story. Discuss how point of view and perspective affect the story.
After completing the novel, have students predict what they think will happen once the girls are leave the orchard. (The book is the first in a series, so students may enjoy comparing their predictions with the next book).
Make soundtracks for any of the 3 main girls, or any of the secondary characters as well. Defend why you would choose/not choose certain songs.
Title: The A-List
Author: Zoey Dean
Plot: Anna is a privileged teen living in New York at her absentee mother’s home. She is a privileged girl who is used to the finer things in life, but is very down-to-earth. Her life is not really going anywhere in New York and her crush has decided to like her best friend; so, when the opportunity arises to move to LA and live with her father (whom she barely knows but wants to) and work as an intern at a publishing house, she hops on a plane. On the plane to California, she meets an equally privileged boy named Ben and ends up going to a wedding with him and meeting all of his friends, some of whom are not so happy that Ben has a new girl on his arm; they want him for themselves. The teen drama continues to spiral, with catfights and shallow attempts at friendships, along with Anna and her father attempting to reconcile and create a real relationship. Anna at times doubts herself and her own values and self esteem, but in the end realizes she is stronger and more self-reliant than most teens and is happy.
Key Issues: Teen lust/love; broken families/desire for relationships with absentee parents; friendship; drug abuse; Shallowness of the rich and famous.
Warnings: There is foul language throughout this book, along with sexual innuendo and some sexual details (not too graphic). Drug use and abuse are touched upon; Anna’s father enjoys smoking pot and her sister is in rehab.
Audience: Teenage girls between the ages of 15-18 are the definite target audience of this novel.
Teaching Ideas: This book would best be taught in a reading circle of mature high school junior or senior girls. The girls could create a diary for Anna and write her entries over the couple of days the events of the book take place. Very little is talked about regarding Anna’s father’s life, both at work and at home; creating a short dossier on her dad could be interesting. Finally, planning a fun party to match the extreme opulence of the wedding in the book could be a fun idea.
Author: Graham McNamee
Imprint: Wendy Lamb Books (Random House Children’s Books)
Awards: Edgar Allen Poe Award
Plot: Duncan is a 15 year-old(ish) boy living in an apartment complex in Toronto. It is not the best address in the city, but not so bad. He had one minor run-in with law a year ago, and it is this smudge on his record, along with one other nagging demon (involving saving a girl’s life), that prevents him from turning an eerie find in the lost and found in to the police. Instead of allowing the authorities track down a potential serial killer, Duncan and his best friend go on a quest to track down the criminal.
Key Issues: Friendship, birth defects, relationship with parents
Warnings: This book does not contain any foul language or sexual content. There are some creepy descriptions, but nothing graphic.
Audience: This book is geared more for 8th-10th graders. I think the audience is more for boys, but I enjoyed the book. Anyone who likes mysteries/crime books will enjoy this story.
Teaching Ideas: You can teach this book to a whole class. The author uses great technique to establish suspense, and also creates clear settings using descriptive language.
One idea would be to analyze a passage and ask the students what they think makes it seem so life-like and ask them to write a paragraph on their own using descriptive language to delineate a place in time.
Another part of the book deals with the characters doing their own research to track down a criminal. They create a map; having kids study the city of Toronto (or their own hometown) and create their own maps could be a fun research project. This can be modified to create clues and a map for classmates to follow on a scavenger hunt within their school.
Title: Rumble Fish
Author: S.E. Hinton
Publisher/Imprint: Delacorte Press
Copyright Date: 1975
Plot: The setting is an unnamed deadbeat town that “always stinks from the river… [y]ou don’t notice the stink if you live there awhile.” Rusty-James, the narrator, is the toughest kid around. He is a troublemaker at school, and ignored by his welfare-tapping father at home. He shoots pool, stays out late, and hangs out with what is left of his brother’s gang. He yearns for the rugged brutality, the lowdown nobility of the days of gangs and the days of rumbles. He loves fighting and he is good at it. And more than anything, Rusty-James wants to be like his brother.
His brother is the unfathomably charismatic Motorcycle Boy – a deep-thinker, a great fighter. “He would have made a perfect knight, in a different century, or a very good pagan prince in a time of heroes. He was born in the wrong era... with the ability to do anything and finding nothing he wants to do.” Rusty-James presses to be like his brother – he tries to read, but cannot concentrate; he tries to keep cool, but blows up. He does not measure up. And his unflagging admiration is returned in measures of cool obliquity.
Motorcycle Boy is recently returned from California, where he saw their estranged mother. The trip moved something in him, something dark, implacable, vortical. And as Motorcycle Boy’s inner-gears move into its endgame, Rusty-James trails behind – will he get sucked down with him? A local cop holding a long-time grudge is lurking on the fringes, just waiting for one false move.
Key Issues: broken homes, brothers, fame, gangs, juvenile delinquency, leadership, living up to expectations
Warnings: There is some pretty dingy stuff in here: graphic and stylized, but not glorified – blood, fighting, gangs, hard-drinking, drug-use (one of Motorcycle Boy’s admirer’s has track-marks on her arm). All that said, the book has a good pedigree and a long history of classroom-use.
Audience: High school, top-to-bottom. The content suggests a predominantly male readership, but Hinton’s name gives it female appeal too.
Teaching Ideas: Hinton’s style is uncanny. I think students would have a ball with a “reader’s theatre” kind of activity – anything that gets the page out loud. This could mean reading straight from the book, chopping up description and dialogue for a beat poem, creating a rehearsed drama, or a filmic interpretation. *Motorcycle Boy is color blind and sometimes-deaf. Students can render a scene from the novel through Motorcycle Boy’s point-of-view, heeding his sensory limitations. *The book provides some meaty discussion prompts – see the “Warnings” section. For older readers, there can be discussions of fame and leadership, its burdens – as seen in the Motorcycle Boy, and projected in real-world leaders; and further, living in its shadow – as seen in Rusty-James.
Title: The White Darkness
Author: Geraldine McCaughrean
Publisher/Imprint: HarperTempest, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Copyright Date: 2005
Plot: In novel The White Darkness, fourteen-year old Sym ventures to Antarctica with her ‘Uncle’ Richard. Sym, something of an outcast due to a hearing loss, is fascinated by the arctic and is thrilled to visit. However, on the way to Antarctica, Sym learns that Richard has, for some unknown reason, hidden their destination from Sym’s mother. While in Antarctica, Sym puzzles over Richard’s secrecy. She also learns that Richard believes that he is on the verge of discovering Symmes Hole, and if such a thing exists, Richard will become one of the most famous of the Antarctic explorers.
Sym, Richard, and two other individuals (Manfred Brunch and Sigurd) travel across the arctic in search of Symmes Hole. Along the way, Sym learns that her uncle is deranged, and his plans may kill him, herself, Manfred, and Sigurd. So, Sym begins to fend for herself; she faces the dangers of the arctic head-on and braves her uncle’s wild and hazardous plans. Along the way, she also learns the truth about herself, her life, and her family.
Key Issues: Identity, family, familial relationships, finding the truth, inner strength, bravery, courage
Warnings: The White Darkness does contain some cursing, including the “f-word.” Also, at one point in the novel, two characters contemplate killing another character with an ice pick, and two other individuals are murdered. Finally, Richard encourages Sym and Sigurd to have sex, but they never do.
Audience: I believe that this book is more geared towards females; however, due to the book’s setting, action, and adventure, I think that some boys may enjoy this book, as well.
Teaching Ideas: 1. Ask students to research a particular aspect about Antarctica and then present their findings (students may research an exploration party, an arctic weather phenomenon, current events in Antarctica, etc.). 2. Ask students to write a letter from Sym to Titus. The students should address their relationship (or imagined relationship). Is Sym ready to let Titus go? Does she still need him? 3. In a Socratic circle, ask students to discuss Sym. How has she grown? Has she changed? Why? How? What do they think she will do when she gets home? Will she ever return to Antarctica? Was Titus an imaginary friend, or was he real (remember to re-read the last chapter of the book). 4. Make a movie trailer for the novel. 5. Make a bio-body for Sym.
Author: Christopher Russell
Publisher: Greenwillow Books, HarperCollins
Copyright Date: 2006
Plot: Abandoned as a baby among a litter of mastiffs and raised in outdoor kennels by the large, fierce dogs, twelve-year-old Brind can communicate with the mastiffs in a way that makes him invaluable to his master, Sir Edmund Dowe. Thus, when the King of England summons Sir Edmund into battle, the aging, impoverished knight takes Brind and all of his male mastiffs, along with Philip, his page, Tullo, his huntsman, and Hatton, his carter, to France with him. Unfortunately, during the Battle of Crecy, all members of Edmund’s party are separated, and Brind wanders off to find Glaive, the leader of the mastiffs and Brind’s best friend, who escaped into the woods after being severely wounded in battle. While tracking Glaive, Brind meets Aurelie, a French refugee, and the two join forces. Together, Brind and Aurelie track Glaive, and they survive numerous perils throughout the novel.
Key Issues: Family life; abandonment; friendship; war; survival; human cruelty; bullying; human kindness.
Warnings: Dogboy contains no profanity and no sexuality; however, parts of the book are violent, and some of the characters—especially Tullo—are treacherous and downright spiteful.
Audience: I would recommend this book to students in grades 5-8; I think this book would be great for reluctant readers.
Teaching Ideas: As a pre-reading activity, have students write about an animal—real or stuffed—that is important to them, and ask them to explain why that animal is important to them. While reading the novel, have students discuss Sir Edmund’s reasons for going into battle, and ask them if they can think of any valid reasons to go to war. After reading the novel, have them write a continuation of the novel beginning at the point where the novel ends, and ask the students to share their continuations with the class.