YA Book Clubs: Part I

Teachers incorporate books clubs into their classrooms for a variety of purposes. Some like to offer books of the same genre. Some like to have the books centered around a theme. For my last cycle of book clubs this school year my purpose was simple-I wanted to assess students on two standards: engaging in meaningful discussion & tracing a theme throughout a text.  This narrowed down the titles I offered for students. I could use all genres except nonfiction (I decided not to include narrative nonfiction) and formats like graphic novels and novels in verse could be included. 

Students in my room are no strangers to either choice or independent reading. We start building a community of readers from day one, so when it comes time to implement book clubs, students see this as a natural extension.  It helps that we have processes in places, making it easier for students to know what they like. I intend to use book clubs again even if we are virtual. 

In this post I'll showcase the books I used in the 2019-2020 school year as well as the books I'm considering for my incoming students. Keep in mind that I teach 8 grade and I offer different books to different blocks. As a rule, I present each class with 5-7 titles. 

You'll notice that most of my book slides have a section called "building background." Because my book clubs this past spring were going to be heterogeneous groups, I knew I needed to spend a class allowing students to gain sufficient knowledge about topics in their books. Research indicates the more a students knows about a topic the more they comprehend (NAEP). This portion might look different for each group. Below are several examples of what building background looks like. I like to use various types of resources, not just books. 

Monday's Not Coming This book is inspired by the now-viral #missinggirlsDC. Eventually students will end up researching this hashtag on their own, but before they get that far I need them to understand why these missing girls did not receive the media attention they deserved. I begin by having them read an excerpt from Skewed to introduce them to media bias. Then, I'd give them multiple examples of media bias-this could be tweets from our president, newspaper headlines, clips from newscasts, or political cartoons. 

Internment  Though science fiction, this book is eerily realistic. For this group, it is vital that they understand what the word internment means. I provide a 3-4 minute explicit vocab. lesson with this group, then have them work together on a deep processing activity (more on how I incorporate vocab. in part three). Next, I'd give them the picture book about the Japanese internment camps during WWII. They use this story to complete a second deep-processing activity so they make connections. In addition, I'd have them read an excerpt from the travel ban. 


It's SO hard to narrow down books for book clubs, but I particularly struggle with fantasy and YA. Have suggestions, drop them below!

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I'll walk you through how I teach students to have effective discussions and be productive members of a group. 


Realistic Fiction Book Club ~Getting Started

Hello Friends!

I’m so excited about this series of posts about conducting book clubs in your classroom. The reason I have put so much time into this is because often I fall short when it comes to book clubs in my classroom. I’m excited about them and I love doing them, but I feel that we start off strong and end weak. I started this journey of learning by reflecting on my past book clubs and then moving into reading Breathing New Life into Book Clubs by Sonya Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen. This book from start to finish gives ideas on how to start book clubs, what to do during book clubs, and how to celebrate the end of book clubs. It also gives ideas about how students can write about their reading in short doable ways that keeps the focus on reading, but also gives students a chance to document their thinking.

As a teacher, I have done book clubs when I taught fifth grade and now with my fourth graders. Honestly, I have done them different ways. Some successful and some WOW completely not successful! When I taught fifth grade my students were grouped by level, they were told what book they were going to read, and they would post-it their thoughts as they read. They would also meet once a week and I read the book with them. This meant that I was reading at least 4 books at one time LOL! Fourth grade book clubs were about the same. The difference was my team didn’t read the books with the kids, and I am not sure if they had previously read some of the books, but two years in….. we have used different books. So, I really had to go off of what they kids were saying were true. YES! You can tell if a kid is totally off the wall with what they are saying if it doesn’t match what other kids are saying, but for me to truly engage with my kids in conversation I would prefer to have read the book or be reading the book with them.

 So, with that being said… I have decided to do something completely different with book clubs in my classroom for the next school year.

  1. We will be using books by authors of color (Black, Indigenous, Muslim, Indian, Asian, etc) because most of the time my students are reading books by white authors and have white characters. This is not a bad thing, but I want my students to appreciate all cultures. I want them to learn about other cultures different from their own.

  1. I have created a list of books my students will choose from. They will have the choice of what they want to read. I will place them into groups accordingly. They will choose their top three choices. (If school is digital, I will also show you how my students will be choosing their books because we won’t be face to face for me to show all the choices).

  1. My students will be grouped by interest in the book they want to read and not by level. Think of it this way to branch out into doing something different. If we are online for school, we won’t have the chance to level students. We would have to go off of what we think the kids could read. 

  1. For students who have difficulty or if they would just rather listen to the book I have all the book choices on Audible. They will be required to follow along with the physical book, but they have the option to listen to it also. Students' listening comprehension will be better than if they were just reading the book.

 Overall my goal is for my students develop the ability to form ideas about books, talk about books, and appreciate books.

Here are my book club book selection:


Now if school is online, I have created a digital classroom with the book choices on the shelves. Students will put this up and each book will be linked to a summary/book trailer. This is how they will preview books. (I will also have a chance to talk about the book choice via an online lesson). Lastly, to choose students will have a Google Form to fill out their top three choices.  I will group them accordingly. Once students are grouped I'll create the meeting schedule. This will probably once or twice a week. My district is using Zoom if online learning is need, so I will be using their breakout room feature for students to discuss their books. Or, I could have a scheduled day where I meet with groups at different times of the day, if the break out rooms becomes too difficult LOL! I haven't decide. I know I want to be present during the discussions, so I'm leaning towards option two. 

Below is an example of what my library would look like if I were teaching online. Each book will be hyperlinked to a book trailer for students to watch or summary for them to read in order to learn a little about each book. 


I hope this give you some ideas on starting book clubs in your classroom whether it's in person or online. I will be continuing this series by talking about how students could document their thinking as they are reading. Stay tuned for part two!



Quintessence by Jess Redman - MUST READ!

Quintessence is an extraordinary story from Jess Redman about friendship, self-discovery, interconnectedness, and the inexplicable elements that make you you.

Find the Elements. Grow the Light. Save the Starling.

Three months ago, twelve-year-old Alma moved to the town of Four Points. Her panic attacks started a week later, and they haven’t stopped—even though she’s told her parents that they have. She’s homesick and friendless and every day she feels less and less like herself.

But one day she finds a telescope in the town’s junk shop, and through its lens, she watches a star—a star that looks like a child—fall from the sky and into her backyard. Alma knows what it’s like to be lost and afraid, to long for home, and she knows that it’s up to her to save the star. And so, with the help of some unlikely new friends from Astronomy Club, she sets out on a quest that will take a little bit of science, a little bit of magic, and her whole self.

This title has Common Core connections.

Jess's way of curating a story that includes fantasy fragments intermixing with realistic fiction is miraculous. As much I loved her first story, I didn't imagine to fall as in love with her second like I had. As someone who struggles with panic attacks, I found myself relating to Alma so much. Jess nailed the character development - so much I can't wait to share with students. All of a sudden, mysterious encounters and coincidences all start intertwining in Alma's life - she's in the school's astronomy club and paired with a very quiet, gifted, young girl student, the most popular girl, and Dustin who is a major bully. They soon realize that they have to work together to save a star, and fast. 
This is a story that is a door - an entrance into the life of something we can only imagine in fairytales, fantasy worlds completely unknown. 
Quintessence will be for those who love fantasy, struggle with anxiety, need to be reminded that with determination, teamwork, and kindness almost anything can be achieved. 
As a teacher, this story will help you to understand anxiety, especially in young children - who we all know are now experiencing this emotion more than ever. 

Here are some friends reviews: 


Jess Redman is a therapist and author of books for young readers with FSG/Macmillan. Her first book, The Miraculous, was a Bank Street Best Children's Book of 2019, an Amazon Best Book of 2019, and was called "layered, engaging, and emotionally true" in a Kirkus starred review. Her second book, Quintessence, releases on July 28th and is filled with magic, science, and heart. Her third book, The Adventure Is Now, is scheduled for publication in May 2021. Redman currently lives in Florida with her husband, two young children, an old cat named SoulPie, and a fish named Annie. Visit her at www.jessredman.com or on Twitter and Instagram at @Jess__Red.

Q: Welcome to TWR! We are so excited to share about your
upcoming release, Quintessence, with our students! Can you
start by telling us a little bit about you? 
A: Thank you so much for having me! First, I want to say thank you to
all of the teachers out there. My husband, my father, and both of my
sisters-in-law are teachers, so I know this is a stressful time for everyone
in education. Teachers, we appreciate you!

I am a former therapist and psychology instructor.
My debut middle-grade book, THE MIRACULOUS, came out last July,
and my second, QUINTESSENCE, comes out on July 28th. I live in sunny
Florida in a little house near the beach. I have two young children, a cat,
and a fish. 
Q: Tell us a little about your upcoming book.
A: QUINTESSENCE tells the story of Alma Lucas, a 12-year-old girl
who begins having panic attacks after moving to a new town. Then one
day, Alma is given a quintescope (which is sort of like a magical telescope),
and that night she watches as a star falls right into her backyard.

To save the fallen star, Alma and three interconnected friends must find
the four classical elements—earth, air, water, and fire. When combined,
these elements will create the mysterious fifth element, quintessence,
which can send the star home. It’s a quest that will take magic, science,
and their wholes selves.

The paperback of my debut, THE MIRACULOUS, also
comes out on July 28th! I’m so excited about the paperback because I know
teachers and students will benefit from having a more affordable option
out there. 
Q: Did any of your own life experiences become a muse for
Quintessence? (Coming from someone who has multiple panic attacks
recently, I know that students are even in my 5th grade classroom -
Alma will be such a mirror character for them). 
A: A: Yes! Anxiety is the most common mental health concern
in the United States. Being a former therapist, I’ve worked with many
adolescents struggling with anxiety, and it’s an issue I care about deeply.

At a personal level, I had my first panic attack when I was nine. Even
though I had very supportive parents, I often felt overwhelmed by my anxiety
and worried that I would never be “normal.” I know I would have benefitted
so much from reading about a character like Alma, who works through what
it means to have a mental health issue and who learns, with support, how
to cope with her feelings and physical symptoms. 
Q; What makes this book a perfect fit for middle grade classrooms? 
A: QUINTESSENCE revolves around four kids who each have a unique
set of challenges. Their quest may be magical and other-wordly, but their
concerns are very down-to-earth—being new, feeling lonely, trying to fit in,
divorced parents, and sibling rivalries. While helping someone else, these
four kids are able to do together what they could not do alone, and I think
this is a powerful message for middle-grade kids.

QUINTESSENCE also explores mental health issues, specifically anxiety.
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that around 32% of
adolescents will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their
lifetime. For teachers, that means nearly a third of the students in your
class are struggling with or will struggle with anxiety. I believe the
middle-grade years are the perfect time for kids to learn to identify and
express emotions, to develop positive coping skills, and to hear that help
is available whenever they may need it. I hope QUINTESSENCE can
foster important conversations about mental health and self-care. 
Q; What are some challenges you faced during your writing process? 
A: It took some time for me to fully understand what I was doing
with QUINTESSENCE. I wrote drafts where the magic was turned
way up and drafts where there was only a snicker of magic (to borrow
Natalie Lloyd’s phrase). I had chapters from the point-of-view of the
Starling at one point. I had no chapters from the point-of-view of the
ShopKeeper at another. It was a story that I had to unfold piece by piece,
but in the end, it came together in a way that felt just right.

Another challenge—always!—is time. My youngest was two while I
was writing this story, and my oldest was just starting kindergarten, so
I wrote quite a lot at night. With the kids being home full time recently
(and possibly in the future), this continues to be a challenge!
Q; What was the revision/editing process like during Quintessence
and Miraculous? 
A: Publishing has a pretty steep learning curve! Being my debut,
I wasn’t sure what to expect with THE MIRACULOUS—how much
time I would have for each phase of edits, what the expectations were,
if I could even do it!

With QUINTESSENCE, I felt more prepared. I knew the first round of
revisions—where I make significant changes to the story—would be
the hardest. I knew I would probably cry a few times and feel completely
lost. But I also knew I was up to the challenge, because I’d done it before. 
Q; What is the biggest takeaway you want kids to get from your story
and future stories (Any WIPs currently?)? 
A: My hope is that all of my books will help readers develop more
curiosity, empathy, and internal strength. I hope QUINTESSENCE
inspires kids to ask questions about the incredible universe around us.
I hope connecting with Alma’s loneliness and anxiety and watching her
reach out to the star encourages them to have empathy for others—and
for themselves. And I hope reading about how Alma’s darkness, her
Alma-less feeling, is transformed into light empowers them.

As far as future projects, my next middle-grade book comes out in
May 2021! It’s called THE ADVENTURE IS NOW, and it’s the story
of video game-loving Milton P. Greene who has to spend the summer
with his environmental researcher uncle on an electricity-free island.
While there, Milton and his new friends find a field guide full of
maybe-magical animals and clues to a treasure hidden in the heart
of the jungle.
Q: What’s the best thing about being a writer?
A: While I love connecting with readers and knowing that my
stories are touching hearts, the thing I love most about being a
writer is simply writing. I love dreaming up stories. I love figuring
out how words fit together. I love creating a whole world that
didn’t exist before. Writing is part of who I am, and it brings joy
and meaning to my life. 
Q: What else would you like us to know? 
A: Yes! Today, I’m so excited to share the Teacher’s Guide for
QUINTESSENCE! After I created a teacher’s guide for
THE MIRACULOUS, I heard from so many teachers who
appreciated having that resource, so I knew I needed to do one

The guide includes questions to consider before the story, while
reading, and after. There are also reading activities that encourage
students to dig deeper, do research, and incorporate STEM concepts.
The guide is also aligned with Common Core standards.

A fun thing for me was learning that the periodic table is first
introduced in fifth-grade. QUINTESSENCE explores the classical
and chemical elements, and I’m hearing from fifth-grade teachers
who are excited to have their class read QUINTESSENCE while learning
about those concepts.

This teaching guide, as well as the one for THE MIRACULOUS,
can be found here: https://www.jessredman.com/resources

There are also quizzes, book trailers, and other fun resources on
my website. And for any teachers who use one of my books in
their classrooms, I do offer some free virtual visits every year, so
be sure to get in touch with me!

To preorder: 

*Click here for an affiliate link :)