Sunday, April 8, 2012

Novels to Know: Middle School Edition

As part of our preparation for Common Core standards our district asked the librarians to put together a list of noteworthy novels that would help meet the higher standards for text complexity and reading level. My two middle grade partners, Monique German and Kristen Hearne, and I will be putting together the list for our level.
Priority number one for me was to become as much of an expert on Common Core as I can so I have been spending time learning the details of our new standards.
If you haven't read the details on how texts are evaluated I highly suggest reading Appendix A of the standards document. There are three considerations when evaluating text: quantitative, qualitative, reader and task. Quantitative can be measured with Lexile or a similar tool. Qualitative includes text complexity and is fully explained in Appendix A. Reader and Task focuses on whether the book is appropriate for the student's age and purpose of the lesson.
To look at a diagram comparing current Lexile bands by grade and the "stretch" bands for Common Core visit the Lexile site. For middle school we went from 860L-1010L to 955L-1155L. The Common Core suggested reading list for these grades can be seen here.
This list does not impress me. Maybe it is because I have only read three items from the list. Oops. Should I admit that? I also found this list, which was better and more current.
I have been deliberately choosing books lately with this in mind. I wanted to find current books with kid appeal that meet these recommendations.

These are my top picks:

Bluefish by Pat Schmatz: The Lexile is only 600, but the text complexity makes it a contender. There are allusions to other text, events were often out of chronological order, and told in multiple perspectives. This title is a good choice for middle grades because there is humor, friendship and family drama. I believe that many teachers would find the story appealing as well. This would be an easy sell.

Wonder by RJ Palacio: The Lexile is 790. The story is told in multiple perspectives with several flashbacks and addresses sophisticated themes. This book is an excellent choice for higher elementary and early middle grades because of the subject matter. This is another choice that I believe would appeal to the majority of students and teachers. In my opinion this book should be required reading for everyone. It is that good.

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos: The Lexile is 920. This is still not quite to the level recommended, but the qualitative measures make this quite a complex book. The figurative language, irony, multiple sophisticated themes, and levels of meaning make this an excellent choice. This was the Newbery winner for 2012 and well deserved. The teachers will probably enjoy it right away, but some of our students will most likely need scaffolding to understand and appreciate this book.

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt: Lexile of 850. High qualitative measures similar to Dead End in Norvelt. It includes a high level of complexity, multiple themes and perspectives and sophisticated graphics that propel the plot.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai: Lexile is 800. Qualitative measures are off the charts because of complex themes, unique perspectives, and unconventional structure. I believe this book would be a great choice for literature circles because it doesn't have the same wide appeal as some of the other titles, but there are definitely students that will love this one.

Addie On The Inside by James Howe: The Lexile isn't published, but I think it is similar to the companion book, The Misfits, which comes in at 960. Finally one within the recommended range. The qualitative measures for this one are where they should be with multiple sophisticated themes, complex structure and figurative language. Again, this would be an excellent literature circle choice.

Others for consideration:
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Wonderstruck by David Selznick
Countdown by Deborah Wiles
Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf
Crow by Barbara Wright

I know some of you are wondering about nonfiction. If you are wondering, good for you. You know a little about Common Core. We will be putting together a list of recommended nonfiction titles, but I wanted this post to focus on the fiction.
We do have a working list of nonfiction pairings with our state book awards as well as websites and book trailers.
In addition to addressing Common Core at this particular session we will be discussing titles that we feel our ELA teachers should know about. We are putting together lists by genre or interest level such as dystopian, titles for reluctant readers, sports, zombies, creepy, something for our sweet 6th grade girls, novels in verse, hilo and more. We are going to create bookmarks with titles listed for them to reference later. I'll share these when they are ready.
Unfortunately even some English teachers do not read often (or read middle grade and YA novels) so we hope to help them be aware of trends in fiction and learn more about current titles that their students will enjoy.

Recently on our state listserv there were complaints that all of the recommended book lists for Common Core were out of date. In response I created this Google Doc in the hopes that our collective wisdom and effort could create a better list. So far it is mostly the middle school librarians from my district that contributed 6-8th grade titles, but here's to hoping. Feel free to add to the list and share.

Since we're talking about books I wanted to share the many wonderful titles I read during Spring Break:
Balloons Over Broadway, The Friendship Doll, The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, Hound Dog True, Lemonade, Shout! Shout it Out!, The Humming Room, Inside Out and Back Again, Addie on the Inside, Bluefish, Dead End in Norvelt, The Whisper, Through My Eyes (Young Readers Edition), The One and Only Ivan, Storm Runners: Eruption, Stupid Fast, Cinder, The Fourth Stall and Press Here. I've started The Scorpio Races, but doubt I'll finish before we return. It was a great time for reading.

What books should be on my Common Core list? Did you read anything wonderful over your Spring Break?


  1. You inspired me! Went into our brand new library catalog and searched recent fiction and recent nonfictin by lexile. Check out my lists at and click on Destiny Quest in the upper right hand corner. Resource lists are in the middle!

  2. Thanks Shannon! Great idea and your lists reminded me of a few I had forgotten. Looks like I need to make another list. :)

  3. Do any of these books have CC guides from the publisher? Is that something that would be helpful? Is a CC guide for a book something that would increase your likelihood to utilize the book for classroom teaching??

    1. I don't know if they do. Personally a guide isn't necessary because I feel our previous standards are not that different that the CC standards, but for some teachers it may make a difference.