After spending the bulk of my career teaching younger kids how to read, I spent the past couple of years teaching young teens about story development and themes in literature. At their age, I always had a book on hand. A trip to Barnes and Noble thrilled me, and I could plow through a series in the blink of an eye.
Of course, at their age, I did not have a cell phone. Texting and Tik Tok were not on my radar. I think in these times, with the addiction kids have to their screens, it is important to guide them toward books (you know- with pages they can turn instead of swipe) that both engage their minds and help them grow as young humans.
From my experience, here are a few examples of novels that do just that.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series
I taught the first book in this series, The Lightning Thief, in my sixth-grade class the past two years. Several of my students went on to independently continue the series. In this day and age of technology addiction, tweens focusing their attention on a series is a big deal. Trouble seems to follow the pre-teen protagonist everywhere he goes, but it turns out this is a result of being the son of an Olympian. I think kids love this story because while it covers exciting mythological adventures, Percy is relatable. Additionally, I recommend guiding your reader through the Greek myths that the story alludes to. Pro Tip: Preview any myth you give your kid to read and find student-friendly versions. Many Greek myths are not PG.
Posted is a book I hand selected for my sixth graders to read entering middle school. The theme: words matter. The story is based upon a cell phone ban in a school following text bullying—the students revolt by messaging through post-it notes, resulting in some heavy effects on certain characters. With underdeveloped prefrontal cortexes, adolescents don’t always think before speaking (or writing/texting). This story creatively sparks the conversation of the importance of what we say, spoken or written.
The Graveyard Book
Your reader will be hooked from chapter one. The Graveyard Book starts as a gruesome thriller, but on a middle school level. A young toddler’s family is mysteriously and brutally murdered (don’t let this deter you- I promise I wouldn’t recommend anything inappropriate). He somehow crawls his way to safety, ending up in a nearby graveyard. Taken in by the ghosts, the main character Bod (short for Nobody) is raised among the headstones and the dead. The book follows his adventures in the graveyard, his struggle to evade the returning killer, and his development into a young man who needs to enter the land of the living.
There are some fun historical references in this book that are great teaching points you can delve into with your kid, such as the Salem Witch Trials and the Dance of the Macabre.
A Good Kind of Trouble
One amazing benefit of literature is that it can give our kids insight into perspectives and issues they haven’t personally experienced. The novel, A Good Kind of Trouble, puts poignant topics such as the Black Lives Matter movement and peaceful protests at a level that middle schoolers can understand. Through the narrator’s point of view, a twelve-year-old African American girl, our kids can learn about racial stereotypes and identity in a way that is age-appropriate and digestible.
What are your tweens reading this summer?