Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Novel Ideas and Units for the Hard To Reach Middle Schooler...

If you are like me, you are always on the prowl and in search of that BEST novel to share with your readers.  The other trick is that different school years bring completely different readers.  Some years will bring very naive students with more sheltered experiences, while others bring the complete opposite.  Is this true of your students as well?

Recently I was having a conversation with a teacher about novels to read in her classroom.  She teaches inner-city students with very challenging backgrounds and she needs novels that will accommodate and inspire their needs as readers.  I get it!  It can be an absolute challenge to encourage learning to occur, when survival is the focus of your day.  While the majority of my experience has also been in an urban setting with readers in search of novels they can connect with and relate to, every year has not been quite that extreme.

Here are a few novels and units for upper elementary through middle school that we found to support and meet our students' needs:


The Lottery Rose is about a young boy named Georgie who is removed from his mother's home and taken to a boy's home because he is abused by her boyfriend.  It is a story about how he has to heal in order to move on in his life and survive.  This novel will truly change you as a teacher and the mindsets of your students as they grapple with the idea that we often have no idea what another person might be experiencing in their personal life, but is imperative that we are empathetic and understanding as human beings.



Maniac Magee is the story of a boy who's parents die in a fatal train accident.  Shortly after, he is sent to live with his aunt and uncle who do nothing but argue.  This arguing forces him to run and not stop until he finds the best possible place to live.  It is in an unlikely place and with a family who does not look like him, but will definitely provide him with the love he needs to survive.  Your students will love reading about how Jeffrey takes challenges head on, and through struggling, finds what he is looking for.


Missing May is the story about a girl who is adopted/taken in by her Aunt May and Uncle Ob.  Six years later, her Aunt May dies in the garden unexpectedly, leaving Summer and Ob alone and struggling to go on.  This novel shares how sometimes we truly have to grieve the loss of someone in order to move on, and also that sometimes what we think we need isn't meant to be.  This novel is told from Summer's perspective, which gives students the opportunity to take on a novel from the first person narrative view. 

While each of these novels seems to deal with loss, it is common place for many of our youth.  Some have lost a parent, a grandparent, a close relative or friend, and there is peace in knowing they are not alone.  They struggle to read novels that they can't connect with, so it is imperative that we as teachers find them materials that are more relate-able.  I would love to hear about some of the best novels and units you have for your hard to reach students.

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