Books in the Middle: Reading for Middle School

Our focus is on books middle school students might like to read and topics pertaining to books for these students, and we are giving recommendations. Teachers, librarians and middle school students are the contributors to this blog. If you would like to listen to booktalks of some of these books, please check out this site and enjoy!

Before Rosa Parks November 19, 2013

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — bhomel @ 2:34 pm
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Most people recognize Rosa Parks as being the leader that sparked the bus boycotts of the South. But Parks was not the first African-American to refuse to give up her seat for a white passenger!

Claudette Colvin, a teenage girl in Montgomery, Alabama, was arrested for refusing to give up her seat for a white bus passenger months before Rosa Parks took part in her famous protest.

Claudette Colvin Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose retells Colvin’s own story and how on March 2, 1955, she decided she was tired of giving up her Constitutional rights. Colvin, who was 16 years old at the time, did not listen to the bus driver who yelled at her to move. She remained in her seat until police dragged her off the bus. She was arrested and put into a jail cell for a short time.

Before reading this book, I knew nothing about Claudette Colvin! Why was Colvin overlooked for her stand against bus segregation and Rosa Parks later honored and widely known for her protest that happened in December of 1955? After all, both Colvin and Parks had done the same exact thing!

Find out why Claudette Colvin was not considered “the first lady of civil rights” like Rosa Parks was by reading Claudette Colvin, Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose.


Guest Book Review by Mrs. Krygeris, 6th grade teacher June 27, 2013

PaperboyIn his Author’s Note, Vince Vawter uses a quote from James Earl Jones, “One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.” Jones, well-known throughout the world for his deep, resonating voice and award-winning roles in the movies The Hunt for Red October, Field of Dreams, The Lion King, plus so many others, suffered with a stutter as a young boy.

Paperboy captures the experiences of author Vince Vawter, who grew up in Memphis, Tennessee during the late 1950s. Mr. Vawter, like James Earl Jones, also suffered with stuttering; he remembers stuttering as early as five year of age and claims that he hasn’t been cured of his stutter, just overcome it. In this, his first novel, we meet 11-year old Victor Volmer III, fondly nicknamed Little Man by Mam, his family’s live-in black housekeeper and Little Man’s true champion. Little Man is growing up in a traditional southern city during a time of huge change for all Americans, white and black. As Little Man struggles to communicate with his peers and adults, he also wrestles with the injustices that he witnesses daily: Mam can’t go to the zoo except for specified times, he can’t attend Mam’s church, he chooses to sit in the back of the bus with Mam where she is more comfortable, and he struggles with the obvious lines in his community between those that have (the whites) and those that have not (the blacks). The story setting is the summer of 1959 and Little Man takes on the responsibility of a paper route for his one friend Rat. While Rat is away visiting his grandfather in the country, Little Man overcomes many personal fears and doubts to deliver the evening newspaper along Rat’s route and then each Friday to personally knock on each door to collect the paper money. This job requires more talking than Little Man has probably done in his whole life! But as most summers are, this is one of growth and experience for Little Man. Mr. Vawter has woven a beautiful tapestry of Little Man’s life as it changes after experiencing the lives of those on his paper route. Little Man finds a friend in Mr. Spiro, an adult who is willing to sit and listen to his questions and provide thought-provoking answers. Mrs. Worthington is young and beautiful, but Little Man senses her sadness and desperation, while TV Boy, who sits day after day in front of the TV without the sound playing, is a puzzle to Little Man. But, while all these impact Little Man, it’s the influence of the neighborhood junk man, Ara T, who turns events in Little Man’s world upside down.

This is a beautifully crafted book that has the reader thinking about so many things: the impact of a speech impediment on communication, racial equality, “traditional” roles of men and women, and finally, friendship. What a wonderful first novel for Vince Vawter, a retired newspaperman, now living in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.


Historical Fiction That Hits Home December 18, 2012

I found out the setting of My Life With The Lincolns was Downers Grove, Illinois and I had to read it! The author, Gayle Brandeis, is not from Downers Grove but she researched the town and what it was like in 1966 to write this story.

My Life With The Lincolns stars Mina Edeman. Mina is spending her summer after sixth grade in her hometown of Downers Grove with her family. By the way, she is convinced her dad is Abraham Lincoln reincarnated and her family is the Lincoln family! She even convinces her dad to name his downtown Downers Grove furniture store Honest ABE’s.

The only thing Mina’s father and Abe Lincoln have in common is that they both believe in equality for all people. Mina’s father Albert begins going to civil rights speeches and meetings. He’s interested in helping African Americans move to and live in Downers Grove but not all the residents agree. Some trouble stirs up for the Edelman family. Later that summer, Mina tags along with her dad as they head to Chicago to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak! At a march in the city, protesters get out of hand. Mina and her father are stuck in the middle of the danger. That danger comes to Downers Grove as some people become angry with Albert’s work to help promote civil rights for all.

It was very cool reading a book that mentioned places I know and have visited – the Tivoli Theater, Main Street, Lincoln Park Zoo, and Soldier Field to name a few. I could imagine these places as I read. Mina is a hilarious character and I laughed out loud several times at some of her antics. I recommend this book for all O’Neill Middle School students because they know Downers Grove and all other middle school students because it is an interesting look at a turbulent time in our history.