One of the things that I’m proudest of about the work that Mike Hutchinson — my best friend and co-teacher — and I do with students is our committed effort to model a love of reading for the kids in our sixth grade classrooms. We are CONSTANTLY talking about the books that we are reading — and we are CONSTANTLY on the lookout for titles that might grab the minds and hearts of middle school boys.
The way we see it, boys need to see the men in their lives reading. Better yet, boys need to realize that there are a TON of really cool books worth spending their time on. If we can cement the idea that real men read when our students are 12, maybe books will stay at the center of their lives long after they have left our classrooms.
Proof of the impact that we make on the boys on our team landed in my inbox today when the mom of one of my former students dropped me the following message:
Hi Mr. Ferriter,
We miss you this year! I hope your new “batch” of students enjoys you as much as we did last year.
I had a favor to ask you. Nathan was always very enthusiastic to read any book you suggested last year. I want to gift him a book for Christmas and wondered if you might give me some suggestions of books/subjects that you know would interest him. He is currently reading The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer for class.
Thank you for your help!
Cool question, huh? Figured you might be interested in my recommendations. Here they are:
Legend by Marie Lu
Set in a future where the two countries that make up the former United States — The Republic and the Colonies — are in the midst of a brutal civil war, Marie Lu’s Legend is the story of a remarkable boy named Day who has become a hero to the people living in the poor sectors of Los Angeles by carrying out regular attacks against the heavy-handed government of the Republic. His exploits — which include stealing fuel from military bases and blowing up Air Force jets — have landed him on the top of the Republic’s most wanted list.
Trouble sets in for Day, however, when his younger brother is stricken with a plague intentionally set loose in the poor sectors of town by the government. Watching his brother carried away by the government, Day’s heart breaks — and he makes a commitment to break into a heavily-guarded hospital to steal a cure and save his family. Things turn south, though, as Day attempts to save his brother — and after watching soldiers kill his mother and his older brother, he’s arrested and sentenced to death.
Legend is a part of a really popular trilogy — so it’s a great recommendation for middle school boys. If they get hooked on the first book — which is HIGHLY likely — there are two more stories to move straight into. What I love the most about the story is that Day shows all of the traits that we should admire in men. He’s honest and committed to his family and friends — and he is willing to take personal risks to do what’s right in almost every circumstance. Those are lessons that every boy should learn.
Million Dollar Throw by Mike Lupica
Nate Brody — star middle school quarterback in a small town outside of Boston — is a legend in and of his own right. In fact, on the field he’s magic. Touchdown passes float off his fingertips with ease and life seems too good to be true — especially after he wins a chance to make a throw at halftime of the New England Patriots’ Thanksgiving Day game for a million dollars.
Challenge finds its way to Nate’s door, however, when his dad loses his job and his mom is forced to go back to work in order to make ends meet. Worse yet, his best friend Abby — the girl who has spent her life hanging out with the boys and making her own magic in the art studio — is struck with a degenerative eye condition that is slowly taking her eyesight one day at a time.
For Nate, both challenges hit hard. He finds himself distracted and broken, worried about his family and his friend. He also feels more pressure than any 13 year old should feel, knowing that his Thanksgiving Day throw could change the fates of everyone that he loves — and while he’s always thrived in pressure-packed situations, he crumbles.
What I love the most about Million Dollar Throw — written by longtime sports reporter and ESPN personality Mike Lupica — is that Nate is a kid with a heart of gold. Every boy needs to know that it’s possible to have a heart of gold and be a popular athlete at the same time. While I’M not a fan of Lupica’s writing skills — the book is full of simple language and themes — ALL of my sports-oriented boys LOVE Lupica’s books. That makes them worth every penny.
Escape – The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman
Because I’m a FIRM believer that EVERY kid needs to read more nonfiction, I never pass up a chance to point parents to biographies or stories about historical events that are worth putting on their child’s bookshelf. One of the stories that the boys in my classroom love the MOST is Escape — Sid Fleischmann’s fantastic biography of Harry Houdini.
Following Houdini’s transformation from a poor Jewish immigrant named Ehrich Weiss to America’s greatest magician, Escape is an engaging read from beginning to end. Readers learn about Houdini’s early fascination with magic — including his commitment to following the lead of his mentor Robert Houdin — and the development of the escapes that he became known for. They also learn about the role he played in World War 1, training soldiers for the US War Department in strategies for breaking out of everything from handcuffs to prison cells.
What I love about Escape is that kids forget that they are reading nonfiction when they are wrapped up in the life of Houdini — and they quickly realize that stories of real people can be just as interesting as the fantasy and fiction that fills their bookshelves.
Hope this helps.
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