Reading for the Middle Grades

Since starting my adolescent literature class on May 12th, I have been blessed to read many really good books.  Reading for the middle grades definitely seems to be geared around learning more about themselves as well as discussing issues regarding acceptance and diversity.  Middle school is an overwhelming time for many young people.  They don’t quite know who they are or where they fit into not only social groups at school, but where they fit into the world in general.

 I started the class by reading the book “The One and Only Ivan.”  Early on, the animals in the story seemed to see one another as individuals, even though they weren’t the same species.  They looked out for one another and had empathy for each other’s situations in life.  I believe that this is a very important concept for students to learn from an early age.  However, when students are really trying to redefine themselves in these “middle years,” it is a wonderful time to reinforce these concepts so that they can all be empathetic to each other through the trials and tribulations of the changing times in their lives.

 My favorite book by far at this point over my past 2 week of reading is “Wonder.”  For eight years I worked in the Special Education department of our local high school.  So many times I would see the struggles of students and the insensitivity of others.  This book very eloquently shows the importance of acceptance during these important times in students’ lives as they are so rapidly changing.

 Acceptance of diversity among others is also important during the middle years.  We live in a very rural community, and our students aren’t exposed to very many different ways of living.  Therefore, literature can be one of the only ways that our students can get a glimpse of how other cultures function.  I went on a field trip with my 6th graders this week, and it was amazing to me at how many of them had never traveled very far from home.  We expanded their horizons only by a four-hour drive, but for some of them, this was quite a distance away.  I love that by connecting them to literature in our classrooms that we can essentially give them some of these experiences on a continuing basis.  It is wonderful when we have class discussion about our group readings, and I can see that they are visualizing and really connecting to what is being taught.

 The one area that I personally struggle with that is shown in some books for the middle grades is when the topics get personal.  For example, in “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian,” there were parts that I would be uncomfortable discussing with students.  I actually know teachers in our district that have used this book as a read-aloud, but it is not something that I would be comfortable tackling.  Even with some of the classics that I have had to read aloud with students I have had moments that make me uneasy.  When interacting with students, I am always aware of speaking professionally.  I can remember reading books such as, “Of Mice and Men” and “Saint Iggy,” where some of the language was so inappropriate that I would skip those parts and students would giggle.  They got used to me skipping words eventually, but I would prefer to find books that provide powerful messages without the use of bad language or sensitive issues that students are dealing with throughout puberty.

 I am excited to see that there are MANY books out there that provide quality messages in school appropriate language.  By continuing to network with other like-minded professionals, I am confident that I will never have a shortage of wonderful books for my students to absorb.  Today I will be starting a biography by Jeannette Walls.  By reading the book jacket, it appears to be another story for YA literature that shows students that no matter what hurdles they have to make in life that a good outcome is possible.  One of the students where I am completing my school library internship recommended it to me, and I can’t wait to get started!

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