Programs for Middle Schoolers: Afterhours Laser Tag

The program I get most questions about from fellow library professionals is laser tag. This is by far my most well-attended program; I had 40 kids plus 10 on a wait list in 2016, and I had 55 in 2017. I continue to hear about it and get questions about when we’re doing it next all year long.

I’ve done this program twice, in February 2016 and February 2017. I chose February because it’s an indoor event that releases pent-up energy, so ideal for winter. Both times were for grades 6-8, and included four supervising adults. Parents were required to sign waivers.

What I share here will be a conflation of the two programs, taking the most effective parts of each. I’ll also mention some things I suggest not doing. Continue reading

Brief Hiatus and Summer Reading Booktalks

It’s been a month since my last post and it definitely has nothing to do with Persona 5. Nope. Definitely not.

Okay, so it IS pretty distracting when a game you’ve waited nine years for comes out, but honestly it was just in time to give me something to look forward to at the end of the day during a stressful few weeks. Last month I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo, then I had to unexpectedly find a new apartment and roommate. At the library, it’s summer reading booktalk time–I spent five full days booktalking at the middle schools! Plus there’s other summer reading prep and a newsletter deadline looming.

Aside from the newsletter deadline, things have settled down, but I’m pretty low on energy and motivation after all that. I’m going to take a week or two off before I resume regular posting.

In the meantime, here are some of my most successful booktalk books of this year’s summer reading school visits.

Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction by John Austin — all grades

I made a few of the projects in here and showed them off, which really got the kids’ attention. The teachers were good-humored about it…I think…

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie — grades 6 and 7

I don’t know why they aren’t publishing more horror. The kids have a huge appetite for it. This one was written by a teenager and is based on her YouTube channel.

To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party by Skila Brown — all grades

I’ll be interested to see how many kids actually read this one, but it makes a GREAT booktalk. I suggest heavily implying the cannibalism part and then letting them figure it out themselves. The “ughhh!”s when the first few kids figure it out are very entertaining.

Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings — grades 7 and 8

This one sparked a lot of interest and conversation. There were also several students who said they love Jazz. Unfortunately, a teacher and I had to tell off a few kids for snickering over this one, which was very disappointing. (It was actually more the teacher than me. I was trying to be subtle about it, but she WENT IN. She was a bamf.) This is a great book, and talking about it is a great way to help normalize LGBT lifestyles.

Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee — all grades

I was surprised and plIeased by the amount of interest in this one. It’s entertaining, educational, and eye-opening–a great book that has sort of flown under the radar so far.

I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President by Josh Lieb — grades 6 and 7

The initial draw of this one was obviously the title. I started with just a booktalk, but ended up adding in an excerpt and showing one of the photos in the book, because I found I wasn’t able to adequately capture Oliver’s voice otherwise. I got mixed results when it came to audience laughter, but I’ve already had several kids at the library asking for it so it must have worked. Fair warning: this one’s surprisingly raunchy, considering the target audience.

A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen — grades 6 and 7

This is a super easy sell and addresses a little-covered part of history. It’s been making the rounds on the state award lists, too.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds — grades 6 and 7

This is short and about sports, so great for a lot of reluctant readers. Added bonus: it has an African-American protagonist, diverse cast, and urban setting. My community is sadly pretty homogeneous, so I’m always looking for good books to help them see the world from the points of view of Americans from different walks of life.

What books are you promoting for this summer?

Jackaby by William Ritter (2014)

jackabyA charmingly silly detective is at the center of this Victorian-era supernatural mystery.

Recommended grade level: 7 and up

Pages: 229 (for ISBN 9781616203535)

Genre(s) and keywords: mystery, supernatural, light horror

Tone/Style: creepy, formal

Pace: moderate

Topics: fairies, unexplained phenomena, Victorian, detectives, serial killers, monsters

Themes: women’s rights, grief, being oneself

Summary: Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–deny. Continue reading

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (2016)

girlLiterary fantasy and winner of the 2017 Newbery Medal.

Recommended grade level: 5 and up

Pages:  388 (for ISBN 9781616205676)

Genre(s) and keywords: fantasy, fairy tale, award winner

Tone/Style: lyrical, mysterious, melancholy

Pace: leisurely

Topics: witches, magic, lost family, amnesia, hidden potential

Themes: family, sacrifice, sorrow, loyalty, loss

Summary: An epic fantasy about a young girl raised by a witch, a swamp monster, and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon who must unlock the powerful magic buried deep inside her.

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. Continue reading

The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse (2016)

girlinThis World War II mystery set in the occupied Netherlands demonstrates the horrors of the Holocaust.

Recommended grade level: 7-11

Pages:   309 (for ISBN 9780316260602)

Genre(s) and keywords: historical fiction, mystery, international, Europe (the Netherlands)

Tone/Style: bleak, fearful, desperate

 

Pace: moderate

Topics: the Holocaust, World War II, the Netherlands, investigations, missing persons

Themes: resistance against oppression, grief and loss, selfishness, risks

Summary: Amsterdam, 1943. Hanneke spends her days procuring and delivering sought-after black market goods to paying customers, her nights hiding the true nature of her work from her concerned parents, and every waking moment mourning her boyfriend, who was killed on the Dutch front lines when the Germans invaded. She likes to think of her illegal work as a small act of rebellion. Continue reading

The Heartbreak Messenger by Alexander Vance (2013)

heart

A funny story about the dangers of messing around with people’s hearts.

Recommended grade level: 4-7

Pages: 304 (for ISBN 9781250044167)

Genre(s) and keywords: humor, realistic fiction

Tone/Style: humorous, self-deprecating

Pace: moderate to fast

Topics: dating, businesses

Themes: heartbreak, bystanders

Summary: Quentin never asked to be the Heartbreak Messenger, it just kind of happened. The valuable communication service he offers is simple: he delivers break-up messages. For a small fee, he will deliver that message to your soon-to-be ex-girlfriend. If you order the deluxe package, he’ll even throw in some flowers and a box of chocolates. You know, to soften the blow… Continue reading

Banned Books for Middle Schoolers

Happy Banned Books Week!

There’s a certain set of middle schoolers who are more inclined to do anything that they think they’re not supposed to. So here’s a pitch for you: let them know that somebody didn’t want them reading these books!

Here are some suggestions of banned books for middle schooler readers, plus some helpful commentary on why you shouldn’t (read: should) read them. Continue reading