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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

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

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

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?

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

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?”

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

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 […]

From The Guide: Slightly Spooky Middle-Grade Tales

It’s time for trick-or-treating, costuming-wearing, and embracing all things eerie. In “Horn BOO!” the Horn Book staff recommends spooky (or kooky) offerings, mostly picture books, for celebrating Halloween. The following books about ghosts, hauntings, monsters, and more will all appear in the forthcoming fall 2013 Horn Book Guide. These novels are lightly creepy, gently macabre, […]

Middle Grade Saved My Life

Bad things were done to me when I was small. Lacking adequate physical defenses, I escaped into my imagination, where I could be all-powerful and the scariest monster was the witch in my closet. Imagination expands when exercised; mine grew strong and wily, 
and a pleasure to me, too, when the bad things were in […]