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Seven Books I’ve Enjoyed Talking About at Guys Read

I spent two summers facilitating boys book clubs and some of the winter in between. Book clubs are a great way to encourage boys to read and a great way for boys who do read to make new friends. I would have loved to have had that kind of opportunity in fifth or sixth grade.

However, not all good books are good book club books… at least not for this facilitator. A book could be a fun read but prove tough going when you talk about it, and an unpopular book can lead to a great discussion, when kids get excited to tell you what they didn’t like about it. I won’t include any of those on this list, but I will include a short list of the selections I felt were a hit with the boys and generated great discussion. Incidentally, Guys Read groups don’t have to be about novels — many boys like to read magazines and non fiction — but mine were.

How Angel Peterson got his Name, Gary Paulsen

This series of anecdotes is just a blip on Paulsen’s amazing career, but is a bona fide book club hit with middle-grade boys. Why? Because the book is about stunts, dares, and misadventures. Boys can’t wait to share their own. This makes it a perfect first book to discuss with a new group. There’s no better ice breaker than, “what’s something stupid you did that nearly got you killed but if you had to do it over again, you would anyway?” On top of that, there are youtube videos of people wrestling bears and using makeshift parachutes that are a fun way to finish the session… if you can get the boys to stop talking about their skateboarding mishaps to watch.

Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis

Bud’s sense of humor makes a grim story set in the Great Depression fun to read and fun to talk about. The surprise came when the boys talked about the back pages, where the author describes the real-life inspirations behind the story, including photographs. I thought kids would be bored by the story-behind-the-story material, but it was their favorite part. They liked knowing how Curtis came to write the story, and the fact that the characters were based on real people made it more important to them. Lesson learned. A book club facilitator can often search out and find similar source material for other historical novels.

Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli

This is a real winner with boys and an easy book to talk about — I started by generating lists of all the stunts and tall tales that are in the book (frog baseball, anyone?). Kids have fun trying to remember them, and then marvel at the list when it’s done. My book club was a diverse group in Crystal, Minnesota, so the boys were confused by the theme about segregation and disinclined to talk about it. It just didn’t feel relevant or real to them. I took that as a good thing. They were still able to connect emotionally to “Maniac’s” search for a family and loved the book’s humor.

Circque Du Freak, by Darren Shan
I had a “book group” that met during the school year, and only one kid was a regular attendee. He was a big fan of science fiction and fantasy, so that’s all we read: Rick Riordian, James Patterson, Chris Paolini, and Darren Shan. I dreaded this one because I am as sick of vampires as anyone, but actually quite liked it. It’s an interesting book club selection because the story is written as if it is all true; the main character is named Darren Shan and the writer’s name is Darren Shan. I never expected to be talking narratology in a boy’s book club, but this one opens the door — we talked about how Shan’s technique and confessional tone quickly built an alliance with the reader, and give a far out story a feeling of immediacy and verisimilitude. I don’t know if the kid learned anything, but I did.

Dog Sense, by Sneed Collard III

This one hits the trifecta for things boys like to talk about — their pets, their experiences with bullies, and their favorite sports that usually nobody writes about. We also had a good discussion about a questionable decision made by the protagonist — and one which I think was a huge mistake even though things turned out OK. It’s an easy framing of an important moral question: do the ends justify the means? I think Sneed must have had book clubs in mind when he wrote this one.

Crossing the Wire, by Will Hobbs

A great way to start a discussion about a book is to list all the ways the main character nearly got killed, and this book has enough to sustain the discussion. It’s about a Mexican teenager’s attempts to enter the U.S. so he can work. The kids responded well, and analyzed each situation and the decisions the hero had to make. It was a very provocative discussion, especially since a couple of kids in the group have family members in Mexico. One understood the sentiments in the book but also wanted to tell the other kids that Mexico isn’t as bad as the book made it sound, which I thought was a fair critique. He still liked the book.

Memory Boy, by Will Weaver

It’s great to talk about a book that begins in your own neighborhood. Vaguely described as the western suburbs of Minneapolis, the kids could pretend it was their own home town. Like Under the Wire, this is a survival story, and it’s easy to talk about the dangers that a hero comes across and how he or she overcomes them. Also like Under the Wire, this has political subtext, but it’s trickier to unpack. It’s about an apocalyptic scenario and a family’s attempt to survive by fleeing to the Minnesota wilderness. We were able to talk about camping and the end of the world all in one book club session.


Kurtis Scaletta is the author of the middle-grade novels Mudville and Mamba Point, both published by Knopf Books for Young Readers. He offers free virtual visits to kids book clubs — see http://www.kurtisscaletta.com/visits for more information.

And the Winner of The Summer of Moonlight Secrets is . . .

Laura Shovan, come on down! You entered the book giveaway for The Summer of Moonlight Secrets, and the random number generator has selected you, yes you! to win this fabulous book.

The author would love to personalize her signature for you; please email dhaworthbooks at yahoo dot com and let Danette Haworth know to whom she should sign the book. Include your mailing address, and The Summer of Moonlight Secrets will be headed your way. Congratulations!

Stayed tuned, MG readers, because we have plenty of other giveaways coming up! Next week, Donna Gephart visits the blog and will give away a copy of her newest book, How to Survive Middle School. In July, we interview Kurtis Scaletta and give away his newest work, Mamba Point.

And one lucky winner is yet to be chosen for the STUPENDOUS, NO HOLDS BARRED, GOLDEN TICKET, NINE BOOK GIVEWAY! Favorite this site and keep your eyes peeled–that lucky winner might be you!

New releases for June

It’s June and the summer book releases are underway! Below is a list of middle grade titles releasing this month.  Check back here every month to find out about the latest MG titles.

♦ AMELIA BEDELIA BAKES OFF (Greenwillow) – Herman Parish. Nephew of Peggy Parish, who wrote the original Amelia books, continues his aunt’s tradition.

♦ A PLACE WHERE HURRICANES HAPPEN (Random House) – Renee Watson.  Free verse picture book about Hurricane Katrina told from the point of view of four friends.

♦ AS SIMPLE AS IT SEEMS (HarperCollins) – Sarah Weeks. Author of the popular SO B. IT.

♦ CRISPIN, THE END OF TIME (Balzer and Bray) – Avi. Conclusion to Crispin’s adventure series.

♦ EMILY’s FORTUNE (Delacorte) – Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Newbery-award winning author’s tall tale about an orphan named Emily.

♦ IMAGINALIS (Katherine Tegen) – J.M. Dematteis. Characters from a girl’s favorite book series come to life but threatened by an accompanying villain unless she can rescue them. Watch a video of Dematteis discussing his book.

♦ INVASION FROM PLANET DORK (MELVIN BEEDERMAN) (Holt) – Greg Trine. The last book from the humorous, superhero series.

♦ HONEY BEES: LETTERS FROM THE HIVE (Delacorte) – Stephen Buchmann. Beekeeper and assistant professor of entomology shares the fascinating history of bees and our relationship with them.

♦ LOVE AND POLLYWOGS FROM CAMP CALAMITY (Wendy Lamb) – Mary Hershey. Third book about fourth grader, Effie Mahoney adventures at camp.

♦ MACKENZIE BLUE – FRIENDS FOREVER? (HarperCollins) – Tina Wells. Part of a humorous series for girls.

♦ MAGIC BELOW STAIRS (Dial) – Caroline Stevermer. Young boy from orphanage becomes footboy to a wizard with a family curse.

♦ ONE SMART COOKIE: BITE-SIZE LESSONS FOR THE SCHOOL YEARS AND BEYOND (HarperCollins) – Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Rosenthal’s morsels of wisdom mixed with the delicious illustrations of mother-daughter duo Jane Dyer and Brooke Dyer.

♦ ROCKY ROAD (Knopf) – Rose Kent. A girl’s eccentric mom opens a family ice cream shop after they move from Texas to a small town in New York. Watch the book trailer.

♦ RULES TO ROCK BY (Walker) – Josh Farrar. Indie-rock coming-of-age tale about 12-year-old bassist who yearns to form a rock band in her new town of Providence, RI.

♦ SAMIRAH’S RIDE : THE STORY OF AN ARABIAN FILLY (Feiwel & Friends) – Annie Wedekind. Eight year old Arabian mare and the girl who raised her run away to escape from the rumor of the impending sale of the family ranch.

♦ SIR CHARLIE: CHAPLIN, THE FUNNIEST MAN IN THE WORLD (Greenwillow) – Sid Fleischman. Entertaining, illustrated rags-to-riches story about the comedian, Charlie Chaplin, by the late Fleischman.

♦ STRAVAGANZA – CITY OF SHIPS (Bloomsbury) – Mary Hoffman. The latest installment in the Stravaganza series transports readers to a world where magic and piracy come to life in the Italian town of Classe.

♦ SUNSHINE PICKLELIME (Random House) – Pamela Ferguson. The up and down life of PJ Picklelime.

♦ THE ACCIDENTAL ADVENTURES OF INDIA MCALLISTER (Holt) – Charlotte Agell. Fourth-grader, India McAllister, adopted as a baby from China, searches for identity in a small Maine town.

♦ THE ELEPHANT’S TALE (Dial) – Lauren St. John. Conclusion to THE WHITE GIRAFFE series.

♦ THE GECKO AND STICKY (Knopf) – Wendelin Van Draanen.  The Gecko and Sticky in their fourth dangerous encounter with treasure hunter Damien Black.

♦ THE OTHER HALF OF MY HEART (Delacorte) – Sundee T. Frazier. From Coretta Scott King award recipient, biracial twins enter an African-American pageant.

♦ THE REINVENTION OF MOXY ROOSEVELT (Dial) – Elizabeth Cody Kimmel. Boarding school story starring an ordinary girl with an unordinary name who tries to reinvent herself.

♦ The SHADOWS (Dial) – Jacqueline West. Described as Roald Dahl meets Neil Gaiman. First in a series.  Watch the trailer.

♦ ZOMBIEKINS (Razorbill) – Kevin Bolger. Shy, bullied fourth-grader empowered by zombie teddy bear. Author of Sir Fartsalot.

Please note that this list has been created as a resource for those searching for new titles and doesn’t represent our endorsement of any one book.

Authors, do you have a middle-grade book coming out in the near future? Send us an email at newreleases@fromthemixedupfiles.com with your name, title, and publisher, and we will include your title in our list of upcoming releases. All books must be published by a traditional publisher as listed in the latest Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market. Fiction and non-fiction welcome.

Please allow us a one-month lead time. We also ask that you do not send ARCS or books for reviews since we do not post reviews on our site. However we will gladly accept an ARC or book donated for one of our book giveaways.