Elementary Nonfiction

Even though #iLOVEmg and truly believe it’s the best group of students to educate, it does have its obstacles.

In middle school I find the biggest challenge to be the social and emotional components. At this age kids are strolling down the wonderful path of puberty. With this, whether it’s a boy or girl comes some major emotional changes. As an educator you are not only tasked with teaching students reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. You also need to teach students how to navigate through a sea of emotions, how to address issues of bullying, how to be confident, and happy with whom they are. I find that novels resonate best with many kids. I’m not talking about handing them a book and shooing them out the door. These are novels that are written for this age group and the issues that concern them and, therefore, should be taught in the classroom and discussed.

Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt

As a fourteen-year-old who just moved to a new town, with no friends and a louse for an older brother, Doug Swieteck has all the stats stacked against him. So begins a coming-of-age masterwork full of equal parts comedy and tragedy from Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt. As Doug struggles to be more than the “skinny thug” that his teachers and the police think him to be, he finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer—a fiery young lady who smelled like daisies would smell if they were growing in a big field under a clearing sky after a rain. In Lil, Doug finds the strength to endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a whole town, and the return of his oldest brother, forever scarred, from Vietnam. Together, they find a safe haven in the local library, inspiration in learning about the plates of John James Audubon’s birds, and a hilarious adventure on a Broadway stage. In this stunning novel, Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival.

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

During the summer of his thirteenth year, Jack Gantos is “grounded for life” by his quarreling parents until his mom loans him to an elderly neighbor for a very odd chore. Miss Volker, the arthritic town medical examiner and obituary writer, needs a typist. The last of the original town residents are dying, and the Volker and Gantos team work overtime to meet the newspaper deadlines. What once seemed like a summer of doom for Jack turns into an adventure involving dead bodies, cooked hands, poisoned rats, a homemade airplane, Hells Angels, a man on a tricycle… and possibly murder. Jack, a nosebleeder, spews blood with each anxious moment, but through it all he learns what it takes to be a man.

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

In all the ways that matter, Mark is a normal kid. He’s got a dog named Beau and a best friend, Jessie. He likes to take photos and write haiku poems in his notebook. He dreams of climbing a mountain one day. But in one important way, Mark is not like other kids at all. Mark is sick. The kind of sick that means hospitals. And treatments. The kind of sick some people never get better from. So Mark runs away. He leaves home with his camera, his notebook, his dog, and a plan. A plan to reach the top of Mount Rainier. Even if it’s the last thing he ever does. The Honest Truth is a rare and extraordinary novel about big questions, small moments, and one incredible journey.

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton

It’s 1969, and the Apollo 11 mission is getting ready to go to the moon. But for half-black, half-Japanese Mimi, moving to a predominantly white Vermont town is enough to make her feel alien. Suddenly, Mimi’s appearance is all anyone notices. She struggles to fit in with her classmates, even as she fights for her right to stand out by entering science competitions and joining Shop Class instead of Home Ec. And even though teachers and neighbors balk at her mixed-race family and her refusals to conform, Mimi’s dreams of becoming an astronaut never fade–no matter how many times she’s told no.

Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt

Kevin has a bad attitude. He’s the one who laughs when you trip and fall. In fact, he may have been the one who tripped you in the first place. He has a real knack for rubbing people the wrong way–and he’s even figured out a secret way to do it with poems. But what happens when the tables are turned and he is the one getting picked on? Rhyme Schemer is a touching and hilarious middle-grade novel in verse about one seventh grader’s journey from bully-er to bully-ee, as he learns about friendship, family, and the influence that words can have on people’s lives.

Ghetto Cowboy by Jesse Joshua Watson

When Cole’s mom dumps him in the mean streets of Philadelphia to live with the dad he’s never met, the last thing Cole expects to see is a horse, let alone a stable full of them. He may not know much about cowboys, but what he knows for sure is that cowboys aren’t black, and they don’t live in the inner city. But in his dad’s ‘hood, horses are a way of life, and soon Cole’s days of skipping school and getting in trouble in Detroit have been replaced by shoveling muck and trying not to get stomped on. At first, all Cole can think about is how to ditch these ghetto cowboys and get home. But when the City threatens to shut down the stables—and take away the horse Cole has come to think of as his own—he knows that it’s time to step up and fight back. Inspired by the little-known urban riders of Philly and Brooklyn, this compelling tale of latter-day cowboy justice champions a world where your friends always have your back, especially when the chips are down.

Do you have any classroom novels you’d suggest to show your love and support for #iLOVEmg? Share your favorites with us in the comments.