Sunday, March 19, 2017

Cedar, Summer, and Shakespeare

It is difficult, in my opinion, to find good books for middle school students, especially middle school students who struggle to read well and feel they hate reading altogether. If I didn't believe, in my heart of hearts, that it is impossible for someone to hate reading, I wouldn't teach. What I do believe is that someone who thinks they hate to read just hasn't been guided down the right path for him or her. I believe there is a book out there, somewhere, that will unlock the door to that student's curiosity. If you can pull them in that way, a student is more likely to make the effort it takes to overcome his/her struggle with reading to satisfy their curiosity. 

There are far too many boring or inappropriate books in middle school for children who are truly eleven and twelve years of age, in my opinion. And by 'truly', I mean students who are the typical reading level and maturity of that age. Don't get me wrong, for voracious, high level readers that will absorb almost anything in their path (like me), finding a book in a middle school library is not a daunting task at all. Those types of students walk into the library and hear book angels singing! (I should know, I hear them, too.) 
The thing is, those aren't the students I need to reach the most. Those children are already on their own path of self-discovery. They love to talk about books with me that we've read and share an interest in together. 

What I need, for my struggling students, are good books that are interesting, but not too difficult. I need books that aren't set in a faraway country with strange names and descriptions, or in a fantasy kingdom with a made-up language, that are too long and complicated for a struggling reader. I also need novels that a student, who is not a native English speaker, can understand without having to study the history of something to grasp the meaning.

What I need are more books like Summerlost by Ally Condie!

I don't hesitate to tell you that this book is perfectly wonderful. The great thing about Summerlost (aside from an awesome title and beautiful cover) is it would interest readers of all ages from fifth grade on up. It's...just a really good book. I completely enjoyed it! As a teacher of reading, though, I couldn't help but notice all the great things about it that make it a good book for middle school strugglers. The chapters are short, the flow of the book never drags, there are equal amounts of action, dialogue, and lovely shades of deep meaning. By "shades of deep meaning," I mean there are poignant moments that are perfectly time and don't go on and on, but the meaning goes straight to the heart. You feel it.

As for the story itself, it's a tale of a girl named Cedar Lee who is trying to put her life back together. As the novel begins, the reader finds that Cedar's father and little brother were killed in a tragic car accident over a year ago. Cedar and her mother and other little brother have bought a summer home in the small town where her mother grew up. It isn't that the family is rich, far from it. It's that her mother bought the property with insurance money (from the accident) to be near her extended family, to help heal and repair her own. The intent is to rent the property out during the school year to college kids and use it for her family in the summer (Cedar's mom is a teacher).

The story revolves around Cedar's summer activities, her thoughts, her new found friendships, and trying to sort out all the things that twelve-year-olds try to sort out in their heads. A big part of the story revolves around Cedar working at the local Summerlost Shakespeare Festival, where she dresses up in Old English clothes and sells theatre programs. There is also a local mystery she tries to solve with her new friend, Leo, which is an interesting side-story that helps drive the plot.

There are equal amounts of humor, sarcasm, action, and heart felt moments in this novel. It's been a long time since I've found one I like this much that I feel is appropriate for my sixth graders. In fact, I love it so much I've ordered ten more hardcover copies to start a book club with it. Yes, it's that good, and it deserves a small following of faithful students that will spread the word like wildfire. This spark deserves to be fanned into a bonfire!

So, if you're looking for a great book for middle school students, no matter the reading level, this book is what you need. Or, if you're just looking for a really good book for yourself as a "tweener" (that's what I call smaller books I read between bigger novels), this one definitely fits the bill. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to any adult who loves a good story and would like to be reminded what twelve felt like once-upon-a-time. It is a lovely book.


In case you're wondering why I added an extra post this past week, I've had a bit more time for reading and blogging. I've been on Spring Break this past week, and it has been wonderful! I decided to enjoy a "staycation" this year, as I'm saving up for some big trips this summer. I couldn't have asked for a better week. The weather has been a little bit of everything I like, and a whole lot of what I love. My husband and I have done some fun things in our own local area, and we've visited with friends and family we love. It's been an all around great week!

I hope everything is wonderful wherever you are, and I hope you're finding great things to read and feed your brain!

Happy Spring!

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