This year as I looked over the books that I have read in the past year and I tried to figure out whether to do a list of the best graphic novels, picture books, or young adult novels, it occurred to me that it might be best to do a series of short lists. So here they are—the top six lists of the top three books I have read since this time last year.
List Number 1: The Top Three Young Adult Novels about Community
- Schmidt, Gary D. Orbiting Jupiter. New York: Clarion, 2015.
The social worker warns Jack (and his parents) that his new foster brother might have some problems. It turns out that Joseph has served time in two different juvenile halls and tried to kill a teacher in one of them. Even though Joseph, like Jack, is in middle school, Joseph has another thing that makes him different. Joseph has a three-month-old daughter that he has never seen.
When I first read this book, I was looking for a powerful voice like the one in Schmidt’s Okay for Now. Jack’s voice, however, is more subtle. As you follow Joseph being enfolded into his new foster family and yet at the same time further separated from the daughter he desperately wants to see, the story gets more and more compelling.
Like Schmidt’s earlier books, this one immerses the reader in a community. But what makes this book great is . . . um . . . actually, I don’t know. I could say it has something to do with the themes of brokenness and grace. I could say that it is an emotionally powerful book, but all of those ways of describing it fall short. Look, bottom line, you are just going to have to read it.
This is a tricky one in terms of whether you can put it in your classroom library. The fact is, the main character and a girl his age have sex, and though that action is not described in the book, one of the questions the book asks is whether two kids that young can really feel love for each other. The book also asks whether we could allow such a person as Joseph to have a part in the raising of his daughter. I think this is a book that should be in classrooms, probably starting at middle school, but some parents might object to it on the grounds that it is introducing children to ideas they should not be thinking about. Having read the book, I would have no hesitation about my sixth- grade daughter reading it, but I can respect parents who feel differently, and teachers should be aware of that possibility.
- Bauer, Joan. Peeled. New York: Scholastic, 2008.
“How did you know I needed fudge?”
“Everyone needs fudge, Hildy. It’s how God helps us cope.”
Hildy, a reporter for her school newspaper (and the daughter of a reporter who died years ago) uncovers a story involving the mayor, the editor of the town paper, a crooked land developer, a fortune-teller, a haunted house, and the possible destruction of several townspeople’s orchards to make way for a theme park. When the school paper starts running stories about it, the school tries to shut it down. Throw in a crusty reporter who knew Hildy’s dad, along with some death, romance, and an underground student paper, and you have a dynamic and interesting story.
At one point, the crusty reporter tells Hildy that before she can run a story about the town newspaper editor’s possible corruption, she has to call him and read him the story. Hildy is scared, but she makes the call because it is the right thing to do. The story shows that communities sometimes stand behind the good guys, that newspaper reporting can help expose the truth in an edifying way, and that there is hope that good will triumph.
Good for fourth grade through high school; nothing objectionable that I noticed.
- Lord, Cynthia. Touchblue. New York: Scholastic, 2010.
Tess is happy living on an island off the coast of Maine with her lobster-fishing dad and her teacher mom. When the state threatens to shut down the island’s school because of low enrollment, several families decide to take in foster children. Soon Tess’s family is welcoming Aaron, a red-headed trumpet player whose mom has substance abuse issues and is unable to raise him. Soon Aaron and Tess have to deal with Eban, their school’s resident bully/jerk.
This book is a bit like a ride in a lobster boat during high seas. At times it is predictable; at times it is not. There are a host of snags and sandbars and floating logs it could run aground on, but it doesn’t. I kept expecting some sort of major gaffe or generalization about foster care that would make me cringe. It never happened. And the ending brought the boat safely into harbor.
It would make a good read-aloud for fourth or fifth grade. It is a good story for both genders, though perhaps it is tipped just a bit toward the girls in your class. I am not sure there is enough here to study this as a whole class, but it would be great for literature circles or independent reading.
List Number 2: The Top Three Picture Books
- Woodson, Jacqueline, and E. B. Lewis. Each Kindness. New York: Nancy Paulsen, 2012.
When a new girl named Maya comes to Chloe’s classroom, Chloe and her friends decide not to play with her because she always wears old clothing that is often in disrepair. Later, when Maya stops coming to class, Chloe regrets how she treated her. It is a simple enough story, but E. B. Lewis’s paintings are spectacular and the message of the book is that the way we treat others matters a great deal.
Bill Boerman-Cornell is a professor of Education and English at Trinity Christian College. He blogs about books for K-12 students at<bookcommercial.blogspot.com>. He likes to read.