Monthly Archives: August 2022

Top 10 Tuesday -10 Must Have Middle Grade and Graphic Novels for 2022 (Part 1)

I don’t post about novels very often because it takes me so long to read enough books to make a post! But a new school year is always a great time to highlight some of my favorites of the year so far. In my experience, one of the best way to inspire your students to read is to get them excited about books! I love having a few new “hot picks” to share those first weeks of school. Giving book talks and sharing “book trailers” or choosing that perfect “read-aloud” book to launch the new year can be just the thing to inspire your students to dive into books this year! Many of these books are also excellent choices for reading aloud, whole class novel study, or to add to your Lit Circle choices.

Trends this year? I’m noticing authors tackling tough topics such as homelessness, poverty, activism, and bullying. There are also many “coming of age” stories with tweens navigating emotional and physical changes as they mature. If you teach those middle graders or are a teacher librarian – here are my favorite new novels (so far) of 2022:

I have divided this post into two parts. This week, I am featuring books I would recommend for UPPER middle grades (mature grade 6 to grade 8) and next week, I will share my favorites for LOWER middle grades (grades 4-early 6). As with ANY book you bring into the classroom, PLEASE READ FIRST to ensure it is an appropriate fit for your students.

Gabe in the After – Shannon Doleski

Themes of grief, loss, community, hope, friendship, and first crush run through this post-apocalyptic story inspired by Anne of Green Gables. (sounds weird, but it works!) Set two years after a global pandemic, twenty survivors, most of them children, have moved from their coastal town to a smaller island where they all live in a mansion. During Gabe’s turn to look for survivors, he finds Relle Douglas and brings her home. That new friendship, coupled with another tragedy, spurs him to wonder if there are other survivors out there and he sets out to search for them. Anne of Green Gables fans will see many parallels, others will enjoy the light romance and COVID connections.

Swim Team – Jonnie Christmas

Swim Team is a middle grade graphic novel that follows Bree, a girl who moves with her dad to a new state and has to begin at a new school. Bree is a math whiz but ends up having to take swimming class because all the other electives are full. Bree knows nothing about swimming, but thanks to an older lady in her building who was once a swim champ, and a little tenacity, Bree ends up competing in the state swim meet. A powerful coming of age story that explores sports, the meaning of friendship, family struggles, bullying, and the stereotype of Black people not swimming.

A Duet for Home – Karina Yan Glasser

An important, eye-opening look at homelessness but filled with gentleness and hope. Told in dual perspectives, A Duet for Home shares the stories of June and Tyrell, two biracial tweens currently living at the Huey House homeless shelter whose stories are intertwined by a prank gone wrong. Full of community, family, music, activism, and speaking out against injustice. This is a must read middle grade novel that will make both a great read aloud and Lit Circle choice.

Ghostlight – Kenneth Oppel

No middle grade novel list would be complete without the latest from Canadian author Kenneth Oppel! Once again, Oppel creates a creates a fast-paced, spooky fantasy set in Canada (Toronto) with GREAT characters. This story follows Gabe who lands a summer job giving a ghost tour of a lighthouse. While telling ghost stories to tourists, he accidentally connected with Rebecca, the ghostly daughter of the former lighthouse guardian, who asks Gabe for help to kill the evil ghost-eater Viker before he starts killing again.

WARNING: This book includes some scary descriptions and themes and I would recommend for 13 years and older.

The Last Mapmaker – Christina Soontornvat

Get ready for a high-seas, coming-of-age adventure set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world! Sai pretends to be from a wealthy family in order to get an apprenticeship with a mapmaker. She hides that her father is a criminal, and uses her skills as a forger to help the mapmaker copy maps and documents. When the mapmaker goes on a sea voyage to explore new regions of the world, Sai is eager to leave her past behind and start a new life. Compelling girl-power fantasy, great adventure, and don’t forget the dragons!

The Tryout – Christina Soontornvat

What could be more horrible than trying out to be a cheerleader in front of the your entire grade seven class? Not to mention, having your best friend say she doesn’t want to be your partner for the tryouts! This graphic novel, based on the author’s childhood, captures the many cringe-worthy moments of middle school life while shining a light on the challenges of being biracial and dealing with racism. A great addition to the MG graphic novel world that invites LOTS of connections!

Operation Do-Over – Gordon Korman

The latest by Canadian great Gordon Korman weaves themes of friendship, first crushes, loyalty, promises, consequences, and regret mixed in with a little magic and time travel! WOW! The story follows seventh-grader Mason and and his best friend Ty, who in order to save their friendship, make a pact to avoid their mutual crush on classmate Ava. But when a freak storm brings Mason and Ava together, Mason breaks the pact and loses his best friend. Five years later, Mason is lonely and friendless — until he gets the magical chance to change the past with a “do-over”. Great for “What would you do?” discussions!

The Road to After – Rebekah Lowell

This powerful novel-in-verse is full of both sadness and hope. It’s told from the perspective of Lacey, a young girl escaping domestic violence with her mother and sister. I love how this book explores the range of emotions that Lacey and her family go through. Great parallels of Lacey learning to garden, growing a seed into a sunflower, just as she is starting to grow and heal herself. This is such an important book for everyone to read.

Thirst – Varsha Bajaj

Set in one of the poorest communities in Mumbai where access to clean water is limited, this story is about how one girl makes a a positive difference in her family, her community, and her own life. Minni, our wonderfully strong heroine, “struggles to juggle” when she has to temporarily take over her mom’s responsibilities while keeping hold of her dreams to get an education and make something of herself. Lots of important themes to unpack with older students including: the inequalities surrounding access to water and education; poverty; theft and corruption. Recommended for mature grade 6’s and older.

Forever Birchwood – Danielle Daniel

Set in the northern mining town of Sudbury, Ontario in the 1980’s, this is a tender, powerful story of Wolfe and her three best friends, on the cusp of turning 13 and all the changes that brings, trying to save their town’s trees and a historic site they discover. This is debut novel by Canadian indigenous picture book author Danielle Daniel has many themes including friendship, environmentalism, activism, and indigenous teachings about nature.

Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone – Tae Keller

Jennifer Chan is the new quirky girl obsessed with aliens, making her the subject of ridicule. At school, she is rejected by the cool clique and even the nerds. And then she goes missing.  WOW!  This book takes a deep dive into the mentality of bullying, belonging, and popularity.  It is so, so thought provoking, real, and powerful.  A gripping magical-realism plot that flips between “Then” and “Now” chapters.  Every middle schooler needs to read this book!  Based on the author’s own experience with bullying, this book would make an amazing read-aloud, whole class novel, or  literature circle choice.  One of the best middle grade books I have read about friendships and bullying, ever.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you found one or two new books to add to your class or library collection! Leave a comment and let me know which books caught your eye! Stay tuned for PART 2 next week, where I will be featuring middle grade novels for grades 4-6.

Leave a comment

Filed under New Books

Top Ten Tuesday – 10 Favorite Back-to-School “Reconnect” Books

Anyone who knows me knows that “making connections” is in my blood!  As one of the five “reading powers” I have taught hundreds of “connect” lessons to students, helped hundreds of teachers know the difference between “deep” and “quick” connections, recommended thousands of “connect books” over the years, and made dozens of “connect” book lists.  

Earlier this summer, I received an email from an educator in school district #69 (Qualicum, Vancouver Island) asking me for a recommendation for a “Re-connect” book.  At first, I wondered if it was a typing mistake!   “What do you mean by Re-Connect book?” I asked her.  

She explained that at the start of a new school year, the staff selects a picture book that is read in every classroom.  The theme of the book becomes the unifying school theme for the year.  

Past themes the school explored included courage, generosity, independence, stewardship, and caring communities.  This year, her school will be exploring the theme of “belonging” and she asked if I knew of any books I could recommend.  (I did, of course!) 

To build the school community, every class reads the book, then joins in an art activity around the theme during the first few weeks of school. The art is hung in the entrance hallway of the school to mark the school theme.   Hers is not the only school in her district that carries on this tradition each fall.  

Here is a photo of one of their school-wide art projects based on one of their past themes: Reach for the Stars. The “Reconnect Book” they used for this theme was DREAM: A Tale of Wonder, Wisdom and Wishes by Susan V. Bosack.

She also shared past themes and corresponding picture books they have used:

Well, of course, my brain started swirling with “Re-Connect” themes and corresponding picture books and I felt so inspired that I just HAD to create a new TOP TEN TUESDAY book list!    With her permission, I am sharing this amazing idea with you in the hopes it may inspire your school to begin the year with a RECONNECT book!  

Below are my top ten “RE-CONNECT” book recommendations and the possible school theme connected to it.  

RECONNECT book:  Welcome! – Barroux

POSSIBLE THEME:  Inclusion/ Belonging 

RECONNECT book:  This is a School – John Schu 

POSSIBLE THEME: Caring Communities 

PLEASE NOTE:  This book is included in the Fall 2022 PRIMARY GearPicks Pack subscription 

RECONNECT Book:  All in a Day – Cynthia Rylant 

THEME:  Stewardship

RECONNECT book: The Thank You Letter Jane Cabrera

THEME:  Gratitude 

See Also: Thankful Elaine Vickers 

RECONNECT book: Jabari Jumps Gaia Cornwall 

THEME:  Mastery/Growth Mindset 

See Also 

 The Most Magnificent Thing – Ashley Spires 

 Flight School – Lita Judge 

RECONNECT BOOK:  My Heart Fills With Happiness – Monique Gray Smith 


See Also:   Pass it On – Sophy Henn

RECONNECT Book: What is Given from the Heart by Patricia McKissack

THEME:  Generosity 

See Also:  Those Shoes – Maribeth Boelts 

RECONNECT Book:   I Can Do Hard Things – Gabi Garcia 

THEME:  Resilience 

SEE ALSO:   It’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon – Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Reconnect Book: Rain Brings Frogs – A Little Book of Hope – Maryann Cocca-Leffler 

THEME:  Hope

RECONNECT Book: Wonder Walkers Micha Archer

THEME:  Wonder/ Curiosity 

RECONNECT Book – Brave Every Day – Trudy Ludwig 

THEME:  Courage 

NOTE:  This book is included in the 2022 GearPicks Pack SEL Add-On Pack

See Also:  When You Are Brave – Pat Zieltow Miller 

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you feel inspired to “RECONNECT” with your students this fall by sharing one of these books with them! Huge shout out to Karen Monstad and the entire staff at Nanoose Bay Elementary School the staff for sharing their “RECONNECT” book idea with me! Happy reading, everyone!

Leave a comment

Filed under Back to School, Connect, Gratitude, Gratitude, Growth Mindset, Mindfulness, Top 10 Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday! 10 New Back to School Books for 2022 (plus a few more!)

As much as it’s hard to face – back to school is on the horizon. Many have enjoyed holidays, much anticipated travel, and time with family and friends this summer. Some may already be heading back to class soon, others have a few weeks left of summer bliss to enjoy. Whatever stage you are at shifting into school mode, it’s never too early or late to start exploring a few new “back to school books”. Starting school with a good collection of “back to school” themed books to share with your students during those first few weeks can really help spark important discussions and help to start building your class community. These books also are a great way to model and practice making connections to the range of feelings associated with heading back to school.

Here are my top 10 favorite new “back to school” books for 2022, along with a few old favorites! (And yes, I have trouble counting to ten!)

This is a School – Jon Schu

A book celebrating school not just as a building, but all that it signifies and represents: all the people who work and learn together, supporting each other to create a caring community. A perfect book to start the school year, to practice “Transform” (Knew-New connections!), but also one that would make a wonderful anchor book for writing about your special school!

NOTE: If you are a GearPicksPack subscriber, this book is included in your Fall box (Primary). For those who are subscribers, because many of these titles are ones you would want to share in the first days and weeks of school, no other books listed here are included in the fall GearPicks Packs as we don’t usually ship the first boxes until the end of September.

 Lupe Lopez – Rock Star Rules – Pat Zietlow Miller

Super cute book about following class rules! Lupe is a spit-fire, drum loving Kindergartener who loves to drum on everything! But when she gets to school and discovers the “no drumming” rule, this little rock star is not ready to put down her drum sticks. Eventually she decides to listen to her teacher, and makes a few new friends along the way! Love the addition of Spanish words throughout this energetic story, reminiscent of Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse.

Mae’s First Day of School – Kate Berube

Mae refuses to go to school and makes up many reasons why she should not go. Upon entering the schoolground, she decides to avoid entering and climbs a tree. Another girl who is afraid to go in decides to join her in the tree. Then, the teacher, also afraid of the first day of school, climbs the tree, too! I love the humour, along with the connections kids will make about why Mae doesn’t want to go to school.

  Hello World! Kelly Corrigan

A young girl sets off with her dog to go explore the world to meet new people. She asks questions, connects to people, listens to their advice, and learns along the way. A perfect analogy for starting school and a great Reading Power anchor book for practicing asking questions!

That’s Not My Name Anoosha Syed

I LOVE books about names and this new one is SUCH a wonderful addition to my collection. Mirha is so excited for her first day of school: she can’t wait to learn, play, and make new friends. But when her classmates mispronounce her name, she goes home wondering if she should find a new one. Such a great book about the importance of pronouncing people’s names correctly.

The Queen of Kindergarten Derrick Barnes

A sweet companion to The King of Kindergarten (I think I might even like this one more!), this book follows MJ as she starts kindergarten. Lively, colorful and heartwarming and I LOVE that there is a focus on kindness and helping others. A must-have for your school library collection!

Blue Flower – Sonya Hartnett

I got a little teary reading this one! A perfect book for making connections to feelings of not fitting in, feeling different, making friends, and anxieties associated with starting school. I love the simple, small moments of self realization, perseverance, and resilience. Stunning illustrations. LOVE this one!

The Little Bear – Nicola Killen

I’m a fan of this author/illustrator, so was excited to see her new book! A very sweet story about a about a bear cub soothing a little girl’s fears about starting school. The story is sprinkled with a little magic and adorable illustrations. Would make a great read-aloud and perfect bed-time story.

First Day Critter Jitters – Jory John

This book came out a few years ago, but I only just discovered it, so thought I would include it. This is a true laugh-out-loud picture book about a group of animals who are all tense about the first day of school. The sloth worries about being late, the mouse about being too small, the kangaroo about leaving mom’s pouch, the parrot about too much repeating, and so on. The creatures are adorable and I love the message of reassurance of starting school mixed with humour. A PERFECT read-aloud for the first day of school!

Lunch From Home – Joshua David Stein

WOW! I’m so in love with this book! Such a great book to discuss the importance of culture and food. Four students are teased by “the sandwich kids” for bringing culturally-specific lunches to school. Readers follow each student as they learn to manage their first “lunch box moments”. Love how this book inspires everyone to stand up and be proud of their food and culture and encourages empathy and respect. This is a PERFECT new book to add to my Powerful Understanding “Others” book list!

Narwhal’s School of Awesomeness – Ben Clanton

Another delightful addition to the graphic novel series for beginning readers. In this story, Narwhal and Jelly become substitute teachers! They teach their “school of fish” some interesting subjects, including “Wafflematics”. Surprise bonus in this book are all the TRIPLE SCOOP WORDS! Every time a fish responds to a question, the other fish respond in synonyms! Sweet, silly and great for vocabulary building! Available in FRENCH.

 A Letter from Your Teacher on the First Day of School – Shannon Olsen

This book came out last year but it is definitely worth a second mention. SO much to love about this heartfelt, honest letter from a teacher to her/his students. A perfect back to school book to highlight a teachers purpose and to help build a positive classroom community. The illustrations are beautiful and inclusive. This book is also now available in French.

Our Class is a Family – Shannon Olsen

By the same author as A Letter from Your Teacher, this is one of my favorite books for helping to build a positive class community at the start of a school year. In it, the teacher compares the class to different families both traditional and non-traditional and how, like their family at home, a family environment in a classroom means making sure everyone is accepted, cared for, and loved.

All Are Welcome Alexander Penfold

Last, but certainly not least, you can’t have a “back to school” book list without including this one! This is one of the best books on diversity and inclusion you can find – and sends a warm message to all children that no matter who they are, what they wear, what language they speak, and what they eat for lunch – they are all welcome at school. A perfect back to school read aloud but an even better book for a principal to share at the “Welcome Back” assembly! There is even a SONG written from this book!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you have discovered one or two new titles to add to your “back to school” book collection! Happy reading and sharing book joy with your class this year!

1 Comment

Filed under 2022 releases, Back to School, Class Community Building, Connect, Diversity, French Books, New Books, Picture Book, Top 10 Tuesday, Transform