Great Middle Grade Reads discussion

GENERAL DISCUSSIONS > In need of a modern grade novel to wow my students

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message 1: by Michelle (new)

Michelle | 13 comments Apparently, I'm old school and The Outsiders are not cool anymore to my admin because of the lexile level. I'm in search of a dystopian society book that has a higher lexile (around 1000) that is teachable and may possibly stand the test of time. It's becoming a pretty difficult task. Any suggestions would greatly be appreciated!

message 2: by Michelle (new)

Michelle | 13 comments Looking for an 8th grade book....

message 3: by Jenny (new)

Jenny Davis | 10 comments There's The Giver by Lois Lowery, however the lexile is only 760. But just a wonderful book.

message 4: by Tonja (new)

Tonja Drecker (tonjadrecker) | 14 comments I was going to suggest The Giver too. A few teachers I know have tackled Divergent. . .although I'm not sure how they taught it.

message 5: by M.G. (new)

M.G. King (mgking) | 728 comments My son read Ender's Game for his 7th grade teacher.

message 6: by Jenny (last edited Aug 03, 2014 06:31PM) (new)

Jenny Davis | 10 comments Ha! Divergent and Ender's Game would have been my other choices! I am a Middle School/High School Librarian (small school) and these are choices that girls AND boys both enjoy. I could see Divergent being harder to teach, and most of the kids have seen the movie already. The Giver movie comes out late this year. Don't know if I want to see it though, seems to deviate greatly from the book.

message 7: by Kammera (new)

Kammera | 30 comments The Matched dystopian series is very similar to the divergent series. This may be a possibility. A17 year old heroine and no sex!! The second and third book is Crossed and then (I think) Reached

message 8: by Kammera (new)

Kammera | 30 comments The giver though is really a great lit book. plenty of topics to discuss.

message 9: by Kammera (new)

Kammera | 30 comments Some of my boys read T he Eleventh Plague-a dystopian novel. You could do a time travel novel like jumper. Or back in time like Crispin by Avi . I think that's the title. The boy goes back to about the 1700s. Check it out .Avi is a solid writer!

message 10: by Kammera (new)

Kammera | 30 comments Yeah not Crispin! I have read so many. I am getting them confused!

message 11: by Michelle (new)

Michelle | 13 comments Thanks for your suggestions. Giver is my number 1 choice but the lexile is quite low for 8th grade. As lovers of reading, I know this does not ya'll, but that makes it a hard sell to my administrators who focus on common core standard reading expectations. So frustrating.

message 12: by Jenny (last edited Jul 30, 2014 04:40AM) (new)

Jenny Davis | 10 comments Errrrrrrrr, common core.......
The Boy in The Striped Pajamas is very teachable and has a lexile of 1080. It will tear your heart out though.
I am reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (lexile 1180) and I love it. It is on several 'Lists for Teens', but I question its appeal to American 8th graders. It is very British in setting and slang. It is a quirky book about a 15-year old boy with Asperger's who is trying to solve the murder of his neighbor's dog. The writer worked with Autistic students, and has done very thorough research, and it shows.

message 13: by Kammera (new)

Kammera | 30 comments What lacks in Lexile, makes up in content.. I feel that standard is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Common core really puts the brakes on meaningful teaching. It kills me, why in the world would any kid find lasting lessons and meaning in a book that has them struggling with many of the words and concepts that they are not cognitively ready for? Your administration should know this based on the appendix's. That the PAARC has put out. Presenters of PAARC discuss that Lexile basically should not trump appropriateness of content.

message 14: by Michelle (new)

Michelle | 13 comments I've got The Curious Incident on hold at my library - good to kno I am not barking up the wrong tree. I just finish The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy but found that way too quirky for my students and me!

message 15: by Michelle (new)

Michelle | 13 comments Kammera wrote: "What lacks in Lexile, makes up in content.. I feel that standard is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Common core really puts the brakes on meaningful teaching. It kills me, why in ..."

There are some things you just can't get thru people's heads. I agree with you whole-heartedly about lexile. We are dropping The Outsiders because of its lexile. 740 which is deemed more appropriate for 6th grade. I'm sure 6th grade parents don't want thier kid reading about other kids smoking, drinking, and the often missed in the book, teen pregnancy. But it's going and believe me, it's a sore subject.

I've spent hours looking for a dystopian book in the proper lexile for 8th grade. Most of the books I have found place a lot of these books back in the 700 range. Literally 6 hours or checking lexiles against goodreads ya dystopian list provided me with very few options.

And here's the thing, I do want to have great moral and philosophical discussions with my students, but I also want to show them what good writing looks like. I have really been struggling with that concept when looking at many of these new dystopian books.

So very frustrated. I can't change CC and my new expectations as a teacher, but I can make sure they have something teachable in their hands.

message 16: by Sandy (new)

Sandy Brehl (sandybrehl) | 40 comments You'll want to read this post on Nerdy Book Club Blog about The Maze Runner- from an 8th grade teacher:

message 17: by Michelle (new)

Michelle | 13 comments I have Maze Runner sitting in my bedroom. I will give it a whirl tonight. Thanks.

message 18: by Kammera (new)

Kammera | 30 comments Yeah the boys would dig the Maze Runner. gruesome accidents but no sex.

message 19: by Alba (new)

Alba Arango | 30 comments The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a grade read that kids, boys and girls, remember for the rest of their lives. Depending on your district, it may be a great cross-curricular read with Social Studies as well. Oooh, cross-curricular. My AP would be so happy.

message 20: by Catherine (last edited Aug 06, 2014 02:33PM) (new)

Catherine | 78 comments Michelle wrote: "Kammera wrote: "What lacks in Lexile, makes up in content.. I feel that standard is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Common core really puts the brakes on meaningful teaching. It ki..."I can't agree more that Lexile can be abused, and that teachers need to have the power to make decisions regarding their students and the appropriateness of books. I don't want to bring up anything that doesn't belong on this forum, but if you, or anyone else here, might be interested in joining a group of like-minded people who are strong in their resolve to fight to repeal Common Core, send me a friend request or a private message.

message 21: by Rochon (new)

Rochon Perry | 1 comments Definitely check out The Offenders: Saving the World While Serving Detention! Exciting. Really funny. But one of the most thought-provoking books out there. It's about kids discovering that they way they treat other kids has made them be seen as bullies. Lots of good discussions will come from it. Plus there are lots of modern references to Xbox and playing Four Square that kids will relate to very easily. Oh, and the cast is VERY multicultural with both boys and girls as the leads, and not only recommended by me, but also by my mother who is a retired teacher!

message 22: by Tonja (new)

Tonja Drecker (tonjadrecker) | 14 comments The One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth might be worth looking at. I'm not sure what the lexile is on it, but it's a newly published dystopian and deals with inequality and environmental issues. Supposed to be up and coming.

message 23: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl (cherylllr) Michelle, I'd love to hear what you eventually decide, and what the students' reactions are.

message 24: by Michelle (new)

Michelle | 13 comments I just finished Maze Runner and I can see my boys liking it. But yet again, as I read I kept wondering what would we discuss? The interactions between the characters would be interesting to analyze , but it never takes you to a deep place that makes them question life. I want that book - interesting and deep. Or maybe funny - we never read anything funny at school - too darn serious all the time.

message 25: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl (cherylllr) Finding a book that prompts rich discussion isn't always easy. I wonder if there are book club questions or teaching guides for Maze Runner. I know that just Googling for those things does sometimes yield good results - like maybe another teacher put his or her lesson plans online, or the publisher put up some enrichment commentary as a way to connect to teachers.

message 26: by Ruth Wilson (new)

Ruth Wilson | 25 comments I am probably going to regret this, but common core doesn't have any specific statement regarding Lexile level, but guidelines on skills associated with critical reading. For example, one book listed as level-appropriate for grades 6-8 is "Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott, which is rated at a 750 Lexile. Another is "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain, rated at a mere 640.

message 27: by Erin (new)

Erin Pauley | 12 comments the search for wondla would generate some great discussions.

message 28: by Catherine (new)

Catherine | 78 comments Ruth wrote: "I am probably going to regret this, but common core doesn't have any specific statement regarding Lexile level, but guidelines on skills associated with critical reading. For example, one book list..."
I really don't want to affirm your regret. :) We're friendly people here. You are so correct in stating that the CCSS specify skills that students should be mastering at a certain grade level. Conflicts can arise in schools when people are forced to adhere to Lexile levels. A Lexile level can be measured (within a range) to show student growth. This can be a great use of the Lexile tool. A student who reads at the upper level of their ability will be challenged with vocabulary and concepts that will allow them to increase their reading abilities. Sometimes, as a teacher, I will decide that it is OK (maybe even preferable) for a student/class to read a book at the low end of their ability (a bit below Lexile) because I want to expose the student to a particular, worthwhile book, or we will be practicing skills that are challenging. For instance, if students are struggling with determining theme I would probably choose a book that is not terribly challenging in vocabulary and not too lengthy so we can read the book easily while concentrating on the evidence of thematic development. Tom Sawyer is rated at 640, probably due to simple vocabulary, for instance. But I think that for many 21st century students, a lot of comprehension work would have to go into understanding the setting of a 19th century river town in the midwest, and to understanding the social problems that are so apparent, but that a child might have little experience with. This can become a problem when administrators adhere blindly to Lexile levels and unwittingly deny the use of good books that the teacher feels can benefit the class. There are also some reading experts who believe that forcing kids to ALWAYS read at the upper level of their ability can turn the kids off to pleasure reading We sure don't want to do that.
An example of a student reading below level that I would view as OK: I had a student who decided that he wanted to read the entire Magic Tree House series, in order. After a few books, he was really skilled enough to move on to something more challenging, but he still enjoyed the books and was really excited about achieving his goal. Someone else might think I should insist he move on to harder books, but I think letting him gain that joy from reading what he chose and working toward a goal that he set was more important. It can be difficult in a school setting to make administrators, and sometimes parents, happy with a choice like this if someone decides to make it an issue.

message 29: by Catherine (new)

Catherine | 78 comments Kammera wrote: "What lacks in Lexile, makes up in content.. I feel that standard is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Common core really puts the brakes on meaningful teaching. It kills me, why in ..."

I couldn't agree with you more. There will be a lot of bumps in the road as teachers try to institute CCSS and still use our own skills to do what we know is best for our students.

message 30: by Ruth Wilson (new)

Ruth Wilson | 25 comments Whatever happened to "Lord of the Flies?" I think that is absolutely my favorite book from middle school (freshman year?). Alas, only a Lexile of 770. Books that actually achieve the elusive 1000 Lexile: "1984", "War of the Worlds", "Animal Farm".

Dystopian of another flavor: "Foundation" by Asimov. Lexile 760 (I think).

*shakes head* any admin reading common core standards as meaning every reader should be reading at a Lexile of 1000 by 8th grade is out if their minds. Especially without respect to content.

message 31: by MaryAnn (new)

MaryAnn Diorio (drmaryann) | 1 comments Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli.

message 32: by Michelle (new)

Michelle | 13 comments Ruth- excellent point. I never thought to look at the CCSS examples as a way to prove this issue of hypocrisy of lexile.

message 33: by Michelle (new)

Michelle | 13 comments I loved Lord of the Flies too and would love to teach that book. Unfortunately, our school would like us to pick up a modern piece as well as lexile appropriate....

message 34: by Ruth Wilson (new)

Ruth Wilson | 25 comments I am not finding anything at the higher Lexile from the late 20th/current time period. That isn't somewhat inappropriate or at least uncomfortable to read with middle school students. The reason being is that YA is not going to reach the higher Lexile level and adult books that might, thanks to the loosening of publication rules on morality and profanity, would not be good choices. That's why classics are often good choices.

message 35: by Catherine (new)

Catherine | 78 comments Michelle, You may already have this information, but The Maze Runner movie will be released in September 2014. There is no date yet for the DVD release. You may be able to use the movie connection to your advantage if you choose to teach the novel. My son saw a trailer for it in a theater last night.

message 36: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Douglass (rdouglass) | 1668 comments Mod
I have to chime in here--and agree with those who point out that the CCSS does NOT set rules like lexile level. Administrators do that. And I know to my sorrow that when districts are under pressure (i.e. from NCLB sanctions), one of the things they like is to standardize everything. I'm still working on my superintendent to allow teachers to use the old reading groups with different books, so kids can read at appropriate levels. When I first talked to him about getting novels back into the curriculum, his first instinct was to say we needed to select a single book per grade.

And this is a guy who's been a teacher, and is VERY bright--but those rules and sanctions are daunting. (But I've not heard from anyone in our District that they need to consider lexile levels for everything the kids read).

Totally agree, BTW, that kids need to be allowed to read below their level for fun. Of course, I consider that to be what you do at home, on your own time, for recreation. I realize looking even at my own kids that THAT ideal is pretty well shot. Sigh.

message 37: by Michelle (new)

Michelle | 13 comments Rebecca- it's good to see we teachers are fighting the good fight. It's about interest. It's about good literature.

message 38: by Michelle (new)

Michelle | 13 comments It's not about lexile. But I have to play by their rules until the rules are ultimately changed when someone realizes this isn't going to work....

message 39: by Michelle (new)

Michelle | 13 comments Just finished The Declaration. Lexile 930. If the novel had started like it ended, I would have had a great book option. Unfortunately, the book was a disappointment for the first 150 pages but then it did what I needed it to do. One week to keep reading....

message 40: by Suzanne (new)

Suzanne Montigny | 8 comments Okay, so for that teacher who was looking for a good book for her class, my middle grade fantasy, The Shadow of the Unicorn: The Legacy was just released in print. It's a story about endangered species and fits in well with curriculum. Plus it comes with a free downloadable reproducible 36 page study guide complete with word lists, comprehension questions, puzzles, an art project, a writing project, etc., but best of all, a complete answer key for the teacher. It's available on Amazon. The Study guide can be downloaded from my website.

message 41: by Megan (new)

Megan | 48 comments Rebecca wrote: "I have to chime in here--and agree with those who point out that the CCSS does NOT set rules like lexile level. Administrators do that. And I know to my sorrow that when districts are under pressur..."

This is a fantastic discussion, even from the perspective of a teacher not having to think about the CCS - we have a different curriculum here in NZ. I have to say that the challenges presented have provoked some really interesting ideas for fresh new literature to use in the classroom.

I'm off to read Maze Runner and then to watch the DVD, as I have been looking for something new, worthwhile, challenging and current for my Year 8 students.

On the lexile thing, someone brought up the tension between finding books that leave enough cognitive space to really develop comprehension and a rich understanding of texts, without having to focus on decoding and too much unfamiliar vocab - this is such an important point, and often missed when the focus is solely lexile.

I have found Falling in Love with Close Reading: Lessons for Analyzing Texts--And Life very useful, as is Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading.

message 42: by Marie (last edited Feb 28, 2015 08:42AM) (new)

Marie Collins (marieccollins) Hi, I'm new to the group. I teach college English and am a middle grade indie author so this topic is interesting to me on a number of levels. I have to say that of all the choices I've heard voiced, I like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night best. I do think American kids would enjoy it -- maybe not in the same way as a dystopian novel, but is that a requirement? The main character is quite appealing and says some very memorable things that touch on deep topics so it has the potential to engage them in worthy discussion, IMO.

I know, Michelle, you said your admin also wants something current, but I actually just read a Heinlein MG book (didn't even know one existed so I had to) called Tunnel in the Sky. I was stunned NOT to find it dated in the way so much other vintage sci fi is (i.e., sexist, racist). On the contrary, it features three strong female characters and -- judging by surname only -- a multinational cast of characters (this is a pet peeve of mine so I was doubly pleased -- I prefer that authors do NOT mention skin color but am okay with other cues). Plus it makes use of space travel via wormhole though it calls the portals "gates" and "tunnels."

It also ties in with the mention of Lord of the Flies -- which I thought about several times while reading this book. Not to give spoilers (this is part of the jacket description) but this book is also about what happens when some kids are stranded (they're a bit older by and large than many of the L of the F kids), but it goes differently, so would be a great side-by-side read with L of the F. I am just putting it out there in case any of you or your students might be interested (and because I'd love to have someone to discuss it with!).

Lots of luck with your hunt.

message 43: by Kat (new)

Kat O'B Rebecca said: I have to chime in here--and agree with those who point out that the CCSS does NOT set rules like lexile level. Administrators do that.

I agree as well. In fact, the CCSSs specifically address a three-pronged approach to determining appropriate texts for readers. Appendix A of the CCSS, provides a three-part model for measuring text complexity in which we consider qualitative dimensions, quantitative dimensions and reader/task dimensions of a text to determine the overall text complexity level. In the appendix (at, there is a specific example where we see an excerpt from Grapes of Wrath. The quantitative level (which would equate to a lexile level) of the passage is grades 2-3, but, when qualitative and reader/task aspects are considered, the excerpt is deemed to be appropriately complex for grades 9-10. I have a slide show that walks through this process and it has been IMMENSELY helpful in "educating" my administrators about text complexity and not to get wrapped around the axle with the reading level alone. I would be happy to share- send me a message! And, for the record, I have nothing whatsoever to do with writing, promoting, or advocating CCSS. :-)

message 44: by Kat (new)

Kat O'B I read The Time Machine by H.G. Wells last year with a group of advanced 7th graders. It was very challenging and we did a good deal of the reading aloud (me reading aloud most of the time). There was a ton of new vocabulary. However, the book is relatively short and it was quite rewarding. I would do it again in a heartbeat with a high class. Also had a teacher do Fahrenheit 451 with 8th graders one year. Also requires a lot of guidance.

message 45: by Laurence (new)

Laurence John (laurencestjohn) | 25 comments Kay, you could take a look at Metatron: The Mystical Blade. Thanks,

message 46: by Catherine (last edited Mar 01, 2015 11:47AM) (new)

Catherine | 78 comments My friend just taught Daniel's Story to 7th graders with success. It is set in Nazi Germany and addresses the Holocaust. It was written by Carol Matas, who has written many books for readers in this age group.It is AR level 4.9 and 720 Lexile, but the subject matter adds complexity.

message 47: by Michelle (new)

Michelle | 13 comments Ironically, our current hired-gun to help us streamline our units to CCSS has done a 180. She has seen the light and stated that a book below lexile is appropriate if the additional material used to teach the unit is at a higher lexile. This still doesn't use the three-pronged approach suggested by PARCC, but at least we have been given a way around the lexile issue. And I haven't heard the words "modern publication" all year. Instead our units are now being driven by a theme statement - how original (note sarcasm). Needless to say, great discussion and thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas. Who knows what the next in-service will bring....

message 48: by Catherine (new)

Catherine | 78 comments Michelle wrote: "Ironically, our current hired-gun to help us streamline our units to CCSS has done a 180. She has seen the light and stated that a book below lexile is appropriate if the additional material used t..."
Michelle, are you teaching in the USA? I just today read that Helsinki, Finland is switching to teaching in integrated units of study across the curriculum. The old ideas keep coming back around. Be ready for this one. I feel your pain about the hired-gun. The only thing we can count on is that there will be more change. Our in-service yesterday emphasized again the need to teach with multi-media. Text books are just not engaging enough.

message 49: by Kammera (new)

Kammera | 30 comments I remembered the series based on the first novel, The City of Ember. This may be an option for a dystopian novel. It was made into a movie. It has several books following the first one. I really enjoyed it. check it out!

message 50: by Andy (new)

Andy Reads | 2 comments I kind of thought the Outsiders were cool

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