From the Guide: Comics for Middle Graders

colossal_rutabega the adventure chef

This year’s ALA honorees El Deafo and This One Summer show that graphic novels and comics continue to soar in popularity and critical acclaim. In their article “Comics Are Picture Books: A (Graphic) Novel Idea,” Elisa and Patrick Gall urge audiences to look at the form with fresh (and less intimidated) eyes; and on our […]

The Thing About Jellyfish

The Thing Aboutu Jellyfish

Through NetGalley, I had the opportunity to read The Thing About Jellyfish, by Ali Benjamin, a middle grade book that will debut mid-September 2015. In this book, Suzy Swanson processes the death of her old friend Franny and the end of a friendship. She grieves the way that she and Franny grew apart before Franny […]

Tales with tails


Who wouldn’t want a giant, invisible, jelly bean–eating cat as a best friend? In the following imaginative middle-grade animal fantasy stories, creatures interact with humans in unusual ways, or they are the stars of their own shows. Fifth-grader Jackson, protagonist of Katherine Applegate’s Crenshaw, is the one scientifically minded member of his dreamy family, which […]

Best book bracketology

March Madness- Picture Books

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. A fresh, clean bracket has names neatly penciled into open slots, representing optimism and promise for excitement. Meanwhile, the sweetness of the beginning is quickly thrown into tumult, as surprises abound and unpredicted losses become the talk of Twitter. The competition is fierce, […]

Middle-grade BFFs

curtis_madman of piney woods

The friends you make in childhood can be the best ones of your life. The following books highlight unlikely friendships that are made to last.    Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Madman of Piney Woods (companion to Newbery Honor Book Elijah of Buxton) takes place in 1901, with the American Civil War a not-so-distant memory for […]

How I learned to stop worrying and write curriculum about Bomb

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

One of the projects I am involved in is a program where a group of retired folks work in schools to facilitate after-school reading groups with middle graders. One piece of my work is to write curriculum about books that (we hope) are high-interest and wide-ranging in subject, so groups will have many options as […]

Historical fiction — why didn’t I use it more?

One Crazy Summer

A librarian friend of mine* recently asked me why historical fiction doesn’t make its way into social studies and language arts classrooms more often. The thought keeps rattling around in my brain. First, I should say that I don’t know for sure that there aren’t tons of classrooms where historical fiction is a great pillar […]

Narrative nonfiction in middle school

Phineas Gage

You may have inferred from my first post in February that I am spending a lot of time thinking about nonfiction for middle school readers. We all know now that nonfiction figures prominently in the Common Core State Standards. In fact, we are told that 60% of a 7th grader’s reading diet ought to be […]

“Where do you buy these?”

Barnes and Noble at Cherry Hill, NJ.

Eight years ago, the question shocked me: “Mr. Ribay, where do you buy these?” The student was holding up a book. He had no idea where to buy a book. That was my first year teaching in Camden, NJ and the first time I had ever encountered someone who had to ask this question. But […]

Marrying accountability and independent reading

The book nook in Elizabeth's classroom

My middle school remedial reading students come to me with a wide variety of reading profiles, interests and needs. Yet one thing almost all of my students have in common is that they begin the year as students who have spent very little time reading. In order to combat this problem, our classroom book nook […]