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What should be on your middle schooler’s bookcase?

3 min read


In a recent Bloomberg Businessweek article titled “The Real Reason America’s Schools Stink,” author Charles Kenny highlights an interesting fact: “In the U.S., kids from homes where there are more than two full bookcases score two and a half grade levels higher than kids from homes with very few books.”

And while Kenny’s assertion — based on statistics generated by Stanford University economist Eric Hanushek and his University of Munich research partner Ludgar Woessman — is specifically referencing the bookcases of parents, my bet is that students with large personal libraries are also doing pretty darn well in school.

So what should be on the bookcases of the middle schoolers in your life?

I asked my sixth-graders that question the other day. Here are 10 of their top suggestions — written in the form of 140-character summaries that we’re planning to start tweeting out in the near future.

  1. Have you been illegally hiding in your attic — looking at the world through a vent? Luke can relate! Read “Among the Hidden.” #intense
  2. “Last Shot”: A big-time basketball star gets ready for an intense championship game — but if anyone finds out about his grades … #buzzerbeater
  3. What’s in the “Guardians of Ga’ Hoole” series? Fantasy, adventure … and owls fighting each other to save a tree. #seemslegit
  4. “Chew on This”: Like McDonald’s? Burger King? Wendy’s? Think again. #truthisntALWAYSyummy
  5. In “Once Upon a Marigold,” you find out that the sweet and kind queen isn’t so sweet after all. #hardtotaketheTRUTH
  6. Not a huge “Star Wars” fan? Don’t turn away because this book isn’t about “Star Wars” at all. “Origami Yoda” IS for you. #wetpants
  7. Want to learn animal-style kung fu while temples are being destroyed and bad guys are killing monks? “The Tiger Series” is for you. #whatmore?
  8. “Pretty Little Liars”: Never trust a pretty girl with an ugly secret or underestimate the destruction one crazy girl can cause. #girlsCANbebad
  9. Are you into action and mysteries filled with robberies and killers? Then try “Kid Lawyer.” #yourFATEisincourt
  10. “The Last Little Blue Envelope”: Dead artist. London. Thieves. Adventures around the globe. Mad love. What more do you want? #crazylies

As an aside, my kids had a ton of fun writing these. The challenge of fitting important ideas that might hook readers into 140-character sentences was harder than they originally thought. They were also way into trying to come up with hashtags that would make readers wonder and smile all at once.

I’m sure that I’m not the only one having kids write “tweetable” summaries of books, but I can certainly vouch for the idea as an engaging activity that can force your students to think carefully about how to sell the books that they believe in.

Will I completely ditch more traditional reviews?

Of course not — but whenever I’m looking for a quick activity to get kids talking about books, I’m definitely turning back to our 140-character summary project. #shouldbefun

Like many accomplished educators, Bill Ferriter wears a ton of professional hats. He’s a Solution Tree author and presenter, an accomplished blogger and a senior fellow in the Teacher Leaders Network. He checks all of those titles at the door each morning, though, when he walks into his sixth-grade classroom.