When I was in the classroom, I had favorite novels that I went back to year after year because they just worked with my classes, and I think many teachers have that same experience. But I also liked to add something new from time to time. The difficulty is that there are so many great novels for middle graders. A good problem to have, but with all the choices, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start looking. That’s why today’s post focuses on choosing classroom novels.
Traditional thinking was that if you are trying to get the boys in your class more interested in reading, you should choose an adventure story, heavy on plot; whereas for girls, relationship stories that focus more on characters were top choices. That may have changed, however, now that many series especially popular with girl readers feature fast action and life-threatening adventure.
For any group of students, I think the most important consideration in choosing a book is to select one with a relatable protagonist, a main character who is the same age or a little older than your students. Kids read popular fantasy series to see kids their age, or the age they can’t wait to be, take on huge tasks and come out winners. I think this idea of a relatable protagonist is also what has made many middle grade classics stand the test of time so well. Kids (and adults) just get into a story more easily when the person facing and overcoming the obstacles in the story is someone they can easily relate to.
Here are a few of the elements that seem to be common threads in middle grade novels that kids definitely relate to.
Focusing on Self
Kids who read middle grade novels are still very internally focused themselves; that’s why themes about the main character’s own life or growth are so popular. Some of the popular themes and topics for this age level include:
- Stories in which the “little guy” wins – Good stories of this type give us plenty of reasons to root for the little guy, making him or her a very relatable character.
- Stories that inspire students to think big or to take action
- Stories that show us that the main character, an ordinary person, is someone important, someone who really matters
- Stories that teach students to never give up – because their own dreams and goals matter
Beginning to Look Further Out
While middle grade kids are busy growing and developing their own personality, they are also beginning to look outside themselves for new ideas. This searching for new ideas shows up in:
- Stories in which the main character uncovers the truth
- Stories that provide a new point of view on an old topic
- Stories that suggest “there’s more out there”
- Stories that take the reader on a journey
Wanting to Have Fun
Kids (of all ages) want to have fun, just like teachers enjoy a good summer beach read! Stories with a fun element built in are always a good bet. Look for:
- Stories that make the reader laugh
- Scary stories
- Stories with strange coincidences
- Stories with plots that twist and turn
Ready to start looking at book lists? Here are a couple of good places to start.
- Goodreads has pages of lists. Click on a book on the list to see information about the book including a short description. Search for lists of books for elementary or middle grades, or search for a topic or genre.
- We Are Teachers also has some nice lists both for elementary and middle grades, with links to information about the books.
And if you would like a freebie to use with your newest read, here’s a link to my free Story Elements Poster Set. This will be a great resource as you continue choosing classroom novels in your upper elementary or middle school classroom!
This guest post by Sharon, from the Classroom in the Middle blog and the Classroom in the Middle Store where you will find lots of lesson ideas and engaging resources designed for teaching language arts to middle grades students including novel studies for some favorite middle grade novels.