Pragmatic Mom

January 31, 2010

6th Grade Science Projects

My Dad Friend had previously suggested The Birds and Bees Sex Talk which was very popular  so I have been hounding him for other topic suggestions since he seems to have his pulse on parenting issues.  His 6th grader just had a Science Fair Day where everyone exhibited their science projects and I bugged him so much he actually blackberried me the projects he saw as he walked around the room.

And here they are, plus a few more that I added.  And might I add that there are a lot of Science Project websites out there in cyberspace. Apparently, this is a rite of passage that everyone is keen to cash in on.  So, I am suggesting science project ideas that do not require major purchases in the form of a kit!  I also have added a few websites with great science project ideas laid out in a very accessible way.

Which paper towel absorbs the most liquid?

What type of fabric best resists stains?

What is the impact of relaxing music on test taking (simple math problems given to groups of kids)

Which material is the best thermal insulator?

Measure speed of fruit rot in a container or not in container

Impact of butter versus  margarine on taste of baked products

Duration of burning by different types of paper

Fabrics – which burns fastest?

Kinds of wood – which burns fastest?

Which eggs float?  (raw, hard boiled, soft boiled, rotten eggs)

Shadow tracing during different times of the day

What attracts the most insect pests  (mosquitos, flies, gnats with sweat, sweet smelling plants, light or dark clothing)

How do different style pencils or grips affect writing fatigue?

What plants are edible in your backyard?;

Could you survive on just what grows in your neighborhood?;

Paper airplane science:

Which type of food molds the fastest in the same place: bananas, milk, bread or cheese?

What effect does music have on plant growth?

I thought these  websites were useful:


January 25, 2010

Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan

I took a day off the computer yesterday and just read books 2 through 5 of the Percy Jackson series.  I have to say it was the best day ever!  This is a really wonderful series with wide appeal both in age and in gender and the range is ages 8-adult.  There is also no weak link in the series and every book stands on it’s own, though I do suggest reading them in order.  I’ve included my previous book review of the first book, The Lightening Thief, below, and can add that I stayed up way past my bedtime, AGAIN, to finish the last book. They Are Simply That Good!

I’ve added the classic Mythology by Edith Hamilton which I read and loved as a child.  You may as well capitalize on an interest in Greek Mythology and even Roman Mythology that this series will instill in your child.  The Usborne is great for younger readers but Edith Hamilton is THE expert and her Mythology book has greater detail.

I also wanted to add that I bought the 5 book set listed below; the one that looks like it’s in a treasure box.  It’s $52 but the books are all hard cover, so I feel like it’s a bargain.  Also, I never found any of the Percy Jackson books sitting on the library shelves and I was too lazy to reserve so it was easier to just buy the set.  My 4th grader was just as excited as I was to open the box, and she abandoned Harry Potter, Book 6, to dive right in.  She also LOVED them which was very gratifying to me.   I do feel that I’ll get good use out of the books as I’m quite confident all my kids will go through this series at some point and LOVE IT!

The Lightening Thief by Rick Riodan.  This is “Harry Potter meets Greek Mythology” and it’s a fantastic read!  It’s such a page-turner that I stayed up to 2 a.m. to finish it!  This is a MUST READ before the movie comes out!

Percy Jackson is an ADD, dyslexic 6th grade hero who has trouble staying in school because, as it turns out, he’s no ordinary human but a half-blood related to one of the big three in Greek Mythology.  He must find and return Zeus’ lost lightening bolt to prevent WWIII.  This series makes Greek Mythology come alive so I’ve included a Greek Mythology book as well.  The level of difficulty is slightly easier than Book 1 of Harry Potter; this book is 375 pages long, normal sized type.  [ages 8-14]

(boxed set of first three books, $11.69)

(boxed set of all 5 books, $51.97)

January 23, 2010

How To Get An Athletic Scholarship (or Get Into Your Reach School)

Even if your child does not appear to be the next Tiger Woods, Mia Hamm or other atheletic superstar doesn’t mean that athletic ability won’t have any bearing during the college admission process.  If you can follow these tips and tricks and particularly the dos and don’ts, you will be ahead of the game!  As the parent, you will have a backseat, no doubt, during this arduous process of getting your child into his or her dream school, but knowledge is everything.  My mom friend neighbor, who is a Varsity Coach with 14 scholarships, advised me that s/he who prepares early for this process can change the admissions outcome.  It’s a game like any other.  So read on.  This a game changer!

First of all, realize that there are NCAA rules regulating communication between coaches and prospective athletes.  A Division I coach is not allowed to call an athlete until July 1 prior to Senior year.  But note:emai l is allowed! Division III coaches play by different rules.  They do not have athletic scholarships, but they can go to bat for your child at the Admission pow wow to try to get your child into the school and on their team.  Note that Ivy League schools are Division III.  Division III coaches ARE allowed to call athletes starting in Freshman year of high school.  So…don’t be put off if your star athlete is being bombarded with calls from Harvard and Yale as a Junior but is bummed out that Boston College, his or her first choice hasn’t called.

But enough about the coaches, there’s a lot of work that has to be done on the athlete’s side.  Here’s the list.

Freshman Year

  • Research schools and make a list of schools you are interested in
  • Keep your grades up
  • Get the PSAT schedule and sign up for a session next year

Sophomore Year

  • Visit the schools you are interested in.
  • Take PSATs
  • Meet with your school counselor to review the schools of interest and understand their requirements.  SATs versus ACTs.  8th and 9th grade grades?
  • Send a detailed letter of interest along with your resume.
  • Get the email address of each coach
  • Discuss your schools of interest with your coach and get their feedback
  • See if any of your schools of interest offers a summer camp or coaches at a summer camp.
  • Visit schools of interest while attending tournaments, showcases or league games

Junior Year

  • Send a follow up letter to each coach.  Include information an any upcoming tournament activity
  • Take SATs and ACTs
  • Set up UNOFFICIAL visit with your top schools and watch their team play
  • Email coaches; Note that coaches can NOT call until July 1st before your Senior year but can send emails
  • Ask references to make a call for you; line them up for a letter when you apply
  • At the end of Junior year, register with the NCAA clearninghouse (if going after Division I schools)
  • Attend camp of selected schools

Senior Year

  • Focus on those schools that fit and on those who have shown an interest
  • Take the SAT or ACT over again if necessary
  • Send out follow-up letters with updated sports information.  Include updated resume.
  • Know where you want to take your 5 official visits
  • Apply to schools in SEPTEMBER after weighing Early Admission versus Regular Admission process

What to Include on Your Resume

  • Contact Informtion including email
  • Birthday
  • High School Graduation Date
  • Height and Weight
  • Athletic Experience:  Premier Teams, Tournaments, awards
  • Academic Information:  class rank, GPA, PSAT/SAT scores, Honors and AP classes, academic awards
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Athletic reference information:  name, title, school, background.  Have 3 references.

Cover Letter

  • This is your chance to sell yourself and why you want to attend this school.  Set yourself apart by your writing skills and persuasive arguments on why this is your top choice.
  • Write a different cover letter to each school.  You never know if they compare letters, right?  Don’t take that risk.
  • What should your cover letter say?  Here’s some guidelines.  First paragraph:  state the purpose of your letter.  For example, you are interested in playing x position for xx college team.  Second paragraph:  explain why you are choosing this school and/or team.  Use specific examples.  Mention the number of visits, sleepovers, camps you participated, games you watched, etc.  Make the coach realize that this is not a canned letter.  You REALLY do want to play for this school!  Third paragraph:  go over your qualifications.  Be specific.  Cover your athletic qualifications and your academic achievements.    Last paragraph:  lay out your next steps and be specific.  Are YOU going to contact the coach?  For what purpose?  Do you want to invite the coach to come to a game?  I have deliberately left out a sample cover letter so that you are forced to customize your letter.  Please follow cover letter conventions with formatting and including your name, address, etc.    Finally, this process of custom cover letter, resume and targeting coaches is EXACTLY the same process that you will do again when you graduate and look for a job.  Learn this  and do it well and it will serve you the rest of your life.

Recruiting Don’ts ( a.k.a. How to NOT get an Athletic Scholarship because you have pissed off the coach!)

  • Don’t have a parent call to boast of your skill
  • Don’t call and leave a message asking for a call back.  You take the intiative to call back.  Coaches are busy people!
  • Don’t send a letter to a coach with the wrong name or the wrong school or with misspellings.  What, are you a rookie?
  • Don’t do a mass mailing.  Customize your communication to the schools that interest you.
  • Do not use a scholarship offer from another school to bargain one school against the other.  Very Bad Form.
  • Do not tell a coach the school is at the top of your list if it is not true.  This can hurt others from your school that follow.
  • Don’t over estimate your abilities
  • Don’t show negative traits in attitude or temperament, etc.  Be positive and confident.
  • Don’t ask a coach for an official visit if they  have not shown an interest by phone.
  • Do not be afraid to ask, after a school has shown interest, if the school has any financial assistance they can offer.

Recruiting Do’s

  • Get a binder to keep all your recruiting information (by school with tabs)
  • Make a list of those schools that have the academic and athletic program that best suits you
  • Send coaches an updated tournament schedule and results
  • Have a list of credible references
  • Go to as many college games as possible.  Reference those games when talking or communicating to coaches.
  • Have a reference make a call on your behalf
  • Be personable in conversation.  Character is critical!
  • Speak positively about other programs, coaches and/or players.  It’s a small world and everyone knows each other! Be gracious!
  • Make yourself known.  One letter is not going to do it.
  • Stay on top of your academics.  It shows your work habits, time management and commitment to achievement.  These are all characteristics that colleges look for.
  • Send thank you notes (the old fashioned kind on card stock) when a coach has taken time to talk to you  or meet with you.  This is a good habit to get into for the rest of your life!

When my Mom Division I Varsity Coach talks about her players, it’s not usually about how talented her players are on the field.  She’s really impressed by kindness, empathy, humility and willingness to give back.  Being recruited can be an exciting and ego-gratifying experience to your child.  Let your years of good parenting shine through with a grounded child who shows graciousness and gratitude for all these exciting opportunities.  And, at the end of day, it’s going to be all about fit:  the right school matched to the right child.  And it will work out.  It always does!

Finally, I include a book that I used when I applied to college a million years ago.  What I like about it is that it shows you how high the bar is for college application essays.  This is the newest edition.  I still remember the most haunting essay from the edition I read.  It was from an inner city boy who wrote about his school, P.S.  XXX.  He described it as a school with literally no windows, but as he wrote about how school opened up the world of literature to him, his school really did have windows after all.  It was the best essay I had ever read and I realized that since I could not write such a moving essay for college applications, I had better be funny!  I read this book more recently when I bought this book for my niece and thought the essays were strangely abstract.  Nevertheless, these essays helped get these kids into Harvard.  My few words of advice:  don’t brag or take yourself too seriously.  Remember, the admissions folks spend 5 minutes TOPS on your entire application.  Two of them read it and if you get a thumbs up, another person will read your application more carefully.  You can also get a definitive thumbs down  at this point and you will then receive the thin rejection letter.  If you can’t grab their attention with your first paragraph, you are forgotten.  Make them laugh or cry.  Move them.  They are reading PILES of applications and you need to stand out in some way.

To purchase this book, click on image of book to buy at

January 21, 2010

The Birds and Bees Talk

My dad friend from high school suggested this topic.  He has three boys; the oldest is in 4th grade.  He said that he attempted “The Talk” but his son was really embarrassed and shouted him out of the room.  That got me thinking:   1) I need to The Talk myself.  2) Why re- invent the wheel?  I don’t know exactly what to say either, but why do we parents always try to do everything ourselves?  3) ugh!

This is a big topic of discussion among the 4th grade moms that I know.  Whenever I’m at a mom event and I run into the moms of my oldest daughter’s friends, we all confer among ourselves….have you had the sex talk yet?  It’s requires lock-step coordination because we all know this information will be widely shared amongst the group of about a dozen girls who run a in loose pack.  There are several mom worries:  I don’t want my daughter to feel left out or ignorant; I want to give my daughter correct information because who knows how distorted the information will become; I don’t want to overwhelm her with too much information; and my daughter is less sophisticated than your daughter.  Whew!  Add that to a uncomfortable topic and you get … procrastination!

I’m a book girl, and I bought an appropriate book years ago and squirreled it away for the right time.  But when is the right time?  Does it need a preface introduction, i.e. Sex Ed 101 before handing it over?  Finally, after realizing that 3rd grade is probably the right time and I’m now a bit behind, I just handed her a book and said, “This is an interesting book.  Read it over and then I go over it with you.”  My husband was alarmed by the fascination my daughter had with the book.  Finally, I sat down with her to answer questions.  She immediately turned to the sex section, but …phew!, she was mostly confused by the illustration in the section.  I had to admit, it was a confusing, albeit, scientific illustration depicting the uterus, vagina and penis in cross-section.

My mom friend who is an elementary school psychologist did not get off so easy.  She gave her daughter several books.  Her daughter read them diligently and then asked her, “It says in my book that adults have sex for fun.  Do you and dad have sex for fun?”  This mom is the unfazed type.  Her response:  “That is an inappropriate question and I’m not going to answer that.”

This is the book I used:  Understanding the Facts of Life.    It’s very matter of fact and sciency in a Biology 101 way.  I find that I just read the chapter in question and answer questions, typically explaining the sciency vocabulary.  It’s not embarrassing in any way, covers all the necessary topics, and is very informative.  I do recommend it.  And a neighbor mom friend borrowed it several years ago for her son and it worked well for her so it’s a unisex sex book!

I would love your comments and advice on this topic!

To buy this book, click on the image to purchase at

For those who want a Birds and Bees “Lite” book, several moms have recommended the American Girl Series It’s a Girl Thing.  I’m told the body changes are limited to body odor.

A thank you to reader, “Nancy,” who recommends The Care and Keeping of You by American Girl Series for an elementary school girl, and It’s So Amazing!:  A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies and Families for a middle schooler and elementary school girl.

Here are two books for boys:  What’s Going on Down There:  Answers to Questions Boys Find Hard to Ask by Chava Castro and My Body, My Self For Boys, revised 3rd edition  (What’s Happening to My Body?) by Linda Madara.

December 31, 2009

Public or Private School?

As my daughter nears middle school, my husband and I have started to wonder…public or private school?   Private school is not something we ever contemplated for our children.  We live in a great public school system and both of us graduated proudly from public school systems in California which were not as good as the school system we currently attend.

I attended an Ivy League college and my recollection, confirmed by others with a similar mediocre high school experience as mine, is that:

— It took me two years to catch up with classmates who went to good high schools.

–There are good public high schools and good private high schools and there are also mediocre private schools.  I only knew three other people from a Catholic high school who were going to college with me and they felt their high school was even worse than mine.

–What were some of the marked differences from the prep school/top public high school  kids and me ?  Foreign languages really stood out.   Despite meeting my foreign language requirement in high school, I tested into beginning French which was basically a remedial class with a dozen of us from bad public high schools and even worse accents.  Good high school = foreign language fluency, as in conversational or being able to read magazines in a foreign language.  Some kids had opportunity to study abroad in high school; not at my school!

Breadth of classes.  My friend from the Catholic High School was envious of a kid from Palo Alto High School (a great public high school) who had Asian History at her school.  I couldn’t believe that my friend from Stuyvesant High School (a magnet school in NYC that routinely sends two dozen kids to Harvard) had economics; micro AND macro!  And my freshman dorm pre-med friend who studied with the nuns in Cleveland really learned how to think, as in problem solve.  He tested into the advanced pre-med chemistry class.  I did not; at my high school, it was more about regurgitation than really understanding how to apply your knowledge…and no AP Chem class either!

I remember bitterly complaining with other like-kind kids and vowing that my kids will never have to play catch up when they go to college!  So my advice would be not so much public or private but how good is the school?  A great public school can kick the pants off a mediocre private school.  There is a list below from the Wall Street Journal about which schools successfully send the most kids off to top schools but if these schools are not an option, dig deep to find out:  1) Is there a study aboard program?  2) How many honor and AP classes are offered?  Look for a wide range of class offerings.  3) How many kids are fluent in one or more foreign languages?  What does the curriculum include?  Language labs?  Small class size?  Native speakers as instructors?  4) What are examples of kids being taught to problem solve versus regurgitate?  5) Finally, where the pedal hits the medal … what is your college placement record?  And the corollary, are you double counting the smart kids that got into multiple top colleges?  What schools are the kids actually ATTENDING.

OK, maybe college placement is getting a little ahead of ourselves.  I do think that it’s not necessarily Ivy League or Bust, but more about the right fit.  The same goes for public versus private school.

My O.B. who lives in the same city as me but at a different elementary school, puts public education into perspective.  She describes her oldest daughter as smart but not a genius, social to a fault, not academically inclined without being pushed, and not disruptive.  In short, to a teacher with 20 plus students, she’s invisible.  Couple that with two working parents who don’t have the time to be omnipresent volunteers at school meant that her daughter was getting no attention.  She switched her to private school by 2nd grade (but she was glad to have 3 years of free public education).  When her daughter got interested in boys, she switched her again to an all-girl school.  In contrast, she says two other doctors at her practice also attend the same elementary school and are having a great experience.  But the kicker…her partners have spouses that are  stay-at-home moms and volunteer like crazy at their school. 

My experience at public elementary school has been mixed and entirely dependent on the luck of the draw.  My middle daughter is having an amazing experience.  My oldest has had great years, medium years, and one god-awful year which, luckily, is not this year.  All in all, public school, with or without volunteering like crazy, has been a pretty good experience.

But, as middle school approaches, our parental anxieties start to heighten.  To be an informed consumer, I started to research private schools in our areas and, more importantly, studies on how children perform in public versus private school settings.  I found some very interesting and surprising results!

New York Times:  Public Schools Perform Near Private Ones in Study

But this is contradicted by a NAEP Study:                                                                                           
However, according to Science Daily:  Public Schools Outperform Private Schools in Math Instruction     
An article in the Christian Science Monitor found that “After accounting for students’ socioeconomic background, a new study shows public school children outperforming their private school peers on a federal math exam … When children of similar socioeconomic status were compared, the public school children scored higher.”
According to a University of Illinois study:  students in public schools learn as much or more math between kindergarten and fifth grade as similar students in private schools.  In their previous 2005 study, they found that public school students tested higher in math than their private school peers from similar social and economic backgrounds.  Their conclusion:   “school type alone doesn’t explain very much of why these scores vary … in truth, whether the school is public or private doesn’t seem to make that much difference.”
According to a CEP study (Center on Education Policy), private school students and public school students perform equally on achievement tests in math, reading, science, and history.  The one difference that CEP found between private schools and public schools involves SAT scores. According to the study, private school students have the edge on the SAT. The CEP notes that this could be because private schools tend to offer more test prep resources than do public schools. 
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in its annual National Compensation Survey,  public school teachers are paid 61% more per hour than private school teachers, on average nationwide. 
Here’s a balanced article:  Public Versus Private.  Which is Right for Your Child? 
Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s 2007 list of Top High Schools by placement at top colleges.
Not that this is necessarily the end goal, but here’s an interesting article by the Wall Street Journal on How To Get Into Harvard.
Our conclusion, though by no means complete, goes something like this:  it is going to cost about $105k to put one child through private middle school.  If that money gets parked in their 529B college fund, it will (hopefully) increase to equal about 2 years of graduate school.  So…wouldn’t it be more impactful on their lives to have graduate school paid for so they are not in debt?  Wouldn’t that be worth going to public middle school?  That is the million, or rather $105k, question we currently ponder.

December 10, 2009

Parenting A Teenager

Filed under: Age: High School,Age: Middle School,Parenting — Pragmatic Mom @ 12:04 am

My  husband sent me this article that his friend sent him.  Neither of us have teenagers yet but I guess my husband’s friend is also a repository of information.  And I did collect this tidbit at  a cocktail party from my neighbors with a teenage daughter:  drive your child to school in the morning  if s/he normally takes the bus.   S/he will appreciate the extra 15 minutes or so of sleep and will be in a good mood so will actually talk to you.  Taking your teenage daughter for a shopping and lunch outing is also the only time she gets a complete update on her daughter’s life.

In this Education Week article, Debra Viadero reports on some recent thinking about parent involvement at the secondary level. “Having your parents involved in a field trip is not wholly consistent with what an adolescent wants,” says Nancy Hill, a Harvard education professor who recently co-edited a book on the subject, Families, Schools, and the Adolescent (Teachers College Press, 2009). “When you look at parent-adolescent relationships, you see kids pushing back on decisions they want to have control of, and it’s much harder for parents to call schools and find out how kids are doing holistically, because they have so many teachers and their teachers see over 100 students a day.”
Hill and her colleagues have found that a number of parent-involvement ideas that seem to work at the elementary level are less effective for secondary students – among them, helping with homework (very little impact on student achievement) and visiting the school, volunteering, and attending school events (moderate impact). What parent activities do make a difference for older students? According to Hill’s research:
–      Communicating expectations for achievement
–      Discussing learning strategies
–      Linking school content and the child’s interests to outside activities
–      Working with the child to prepare for college
–      Fostering career aspirations and making plans for the future
Researchers call these types of parent involvement “academic socialization” and recommend that schools maximize them.
However, these practices don’t help all parents help their children. Hill has found that parents who didn’t themselves go to college are less successful in raising their children’s academic achievement, no matter how many parent-involvement activities they engage in. Schools need to guide these parents to make their efforts more effective, she says. “They should be saying, ‘Here are the courses you need to take, and if your child’s not ready for those courses, here is what you can do to get your child ready so the pathways lie open.’”
A chapter by Robert Crosnoe in Hill’s book goes deeper on this point, addressing the slippage that often happens as students move from middle to high school – the disconnect when high-school freshmen are placed in courses that don’t match with their previous preparation. This problem is most common for Latino youth. “Where high-school students start off their coursework is the best predictor of where they finish their coursework in high school,” says Crosnoe, “and where they finish their coursework is the best predictor for whether they go to college and whether they stay in college.”

“Researchers Explore Teens, Parents, Schools” by Debra Viadero in Education Week, Nov. 18, 2009 (Vol. 29, #12, p. 1, 14)

November 30, 2009

Favorite Books for Middle School Kids

Once your child can read Harry Potter, the entire universe of books opens up, but what is age appropriate?  I have handed my oldest books that were Newbery Award winners, on the thin side, and with decent size type only to find them a tad too old for her based on content.  I have a tendency to steer what I call “Grapes of Wrath” realism to middle school; I think these books are fine for 4th or 5th grade as a classroom assignment because the teacher provides context, but reading for pleasure should be … a pleasure.  Another reason why some of these books are on this list is that, as historical novels, it will be a much richer experience to read them while learning about that period of time in history class.  But, as always, it’s just a personal call.  I have used the Boston Public Library’s book list as a guide.  As always, if you want to purchase a book, just click on the image and you will be transported to

My original list was quite sparse simply because I’m backlogged with books for grades 3-5.  In a testimony to the power of texting, my Mother’s Helper Extraordinaire (and straight A student) texted her Straight A Student Friends for help compiling:  20 Books I have Read in Middle School and Enjoyed.  She said that she was shocked to get the list completed in 10 minutes.  I will read these books eventually, but they have MHE after it to indicate it’s a recommendation from my 8th grader Mother’s Helper Extraordinaire (MHE).  And who knew we read some of the same adult books?!

The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli.  This Newbery Award winner author was born over two hundred years ago, yet her novel, set in Medieval England, is an enduring tale of a son of a knight who becomes a hero despite being crippled and discovers that there is more than one way to serve the king.  Her book makes the medieval times come alive.  I consider this as historical fiction. [ages 11-15]

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.  MHE.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.  MHE.

Deception Point by Dan Brown.  MHE.

The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales.

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko. I consider this as historical fiction. [ages 11-15]

The Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul Choi.  A mom friend met the author at an event at the Boston Public Library and really enjoyed meeting her and hearing about her background.  She bought this book for her son, a 4th grader.  He didn’t finish the book; it’s better for a slightly older age.   I consider this as historical fiction. [ages 11-15]

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creen.  MHE.

No Small Thing by Natale Ghent.  MHE.

Piper by Natalie Ghent.  MHE.

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.  MHE.

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata.  I am a big fan of Cynthia Kadohata so I gave this book to my daughter to read when she was 8-years-old.  Another friend of her’s also read this at the same age.  It wasn’t that long, the print wasn’t mouse-sized, and it won a Newbery Medal.  Right? Wrong!  In retrospect, I should have read the book first.  It’s a story about a Japanese family forced to relocate during WWII, a particularly sensitive subject for me because my mom was forced to relocated during the war.  It has a Grapes of Wrath realism that would be better served for a middle schooler, and it would be a richer experience coupled with learning WWII-era  U.S. history. I consider this as historical fiction. [ages 11-15]

Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella.  MHE.  I did read this book also, and I thought it was a cute love story from the author of the Shopaholic Series.  I personally wouldn’t have guessed that an middle-schooler would like this because I think of this as Chick Lit.  But, to my earlier point, there is not a line between young adult and adult fiction, truly.  This is an enjoyable read on the beach.  I probably would not hand this book to my 8th grader but if she found it on her own I wouldn’t stop her.  MHE’s friends also recommended Remember Me? also by Sophie Kinsella.  I have to say I bought this book to read on a long plane ride and gave up.  It’s not as interesting a story so I’m giving a fair warning.

The View from Saturday by E. L. Konisburg.  This might be Konisburg’s finest work, which is saying a lot given her two Newbery Medals!  This tightly woven story tells the story of four members of Mrs. Oliniski’s 6th grade Academic Bowl team and their unlikely state middle school championship, but also weaves together short story about each of the students reminding us that there is only two degrees of separation between kindness and love.

The Giver by Lois Lowry.  MHE.

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass.  MHE.

The Hunt for Atlantis by Andy McDermott.  MHE.

The Host by Stephenie Meyer.  MHE.

Beowolf:  A New Telling by Robert Nye.  MHE.  She notes, “Not as bad as orginal but pretty graphic.”

Maximum Ride series by James Patterson.  MHE.

The Lightening Thief by Rick Riodan.  This is “Harry Potter meets Greek Mythology” and it’s a fantastic read!  It’s such a page-turner that I stayed up to 2 a.m. to finish it!  This is a MUST READ before the movie comes out!

Percy Jackson is an ADD, dyslexic 6th grade hero who has trouble staying in school because, as it turns out, he’s no ordinary human but a half-blood related to one of the big three in Greek Mythology.  He must find and return Zeus’ lost lightening bolt to prevent WWIII.  This series makes Greek Mythology come alive so I’ve included a Greek Mythology book as well.  The level of difficulty is slightly easier than Book 1 of Harry Potter; this book is 375 pages long, normal sized type.  [ages 8-14]

(boxed set of first three books, $11.69)

(boxed set of all 5 books, $51.97)

Holes by Louis Sachar.  The Boston Public Library places this book under Middle School, but it’s also worked successfully as a book club book for boys in 3rd grade.

Smiles to Go by Jerry Spinelli.  Will Tuppence, a tightly-wound freshman in high school, learns about love and letting go after a family tragedy. [ages 11-16]


The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewert.  MHE.

The Land by Mildred D. Taylor.  MHE.

Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld.  MHE.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.  The moms in my book club swooned over this book.  They were reading it for their mother/daughter book club and highly recommended this book.  We almost picked it for our adult book club.

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