Game Changer by Tommy Greenwald (2018)

This sports novel in verse keeps the tension high and the pages turning with succinct language and a tantalizing mystery.

Recommended grade level: 7 and up

Pages:  304 (for ISBN 9781419731433 )

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic fiction, verse, sports, mystery, reluctant readers

Tone/Style: spare, epistolary

Pace: fast

Topics: sports injuries, hazing, social media

Themes: honesty, peer pressure, sports culture

Summary: Thirteen-year-old Teddy Youngblood is in a coma fighting for his life after an unspecified football injury at training camp. His family and friends flock to his bedside to support his recovery—and to discuss the events leading up to the tragic accident. Was this an inevitable result of playing a violent sport, or was something more sinister happening on the field that day? Told in an innovative, multimedia format combining dialogue, texts, newspaper articles, transcripts, an online forum, and Teddy’s inner thoughts, Game Changer explores the joyous thrills and terrifying risks of America’s most popular sport. (Source)

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Bookish Boyfriends: A Date with Darcy by Tiffany Schmidt (2018)

A cute, light romance that acknowledges the realistic pitfalls of dating and lovingly pokes fun at YA tropes.

Recommended grade level: 7 and up

Pages: 392 (for ISBN 9781419728600)

Genre(s) and keywords: romance, humor, retelling

Tone/Style: light, humorous

Pace: leisurely to moderate (the second half moves more quickly than the first)

Topics: new schools, first kisses, books, siblings (sisters), dating, relationships

Themes: reality versus expectations, imagination, destiny, false impressions of others

Summary: Boys are so much better in books. At least according to Merrilee Campbell, fifteen, who thinks real-life chivalry is dead and there’d be nothing more romantic than having a guy woo her like the heroes in classic stories. Then she, her best friend, Eliza, and her younger sister, Rory, transfer to Reginald R. Hero Prep—where all the boys look like they’ve stepped off the pages of a romance novel. Merri can hardly walk across the quad without running into someone who reminds her of Romeo.

Read more“Bookish Boyfriends: A Date with Darcy by Tiffany Schmidt (2018)”

The Dogs by Allan Stratton (2015)

DogsQuick, creepy, and twisty, this is a solid choice for hungry horror fans.

Recommended grade level: 7 and up

Pages:  272 (for ISBN 9781492609384)

Genre(s) and keywords: thriller, horror, mystery, reluctant readers

Tone/Style: dark, unreliable

Pace: moderate to fast

Topics: ghosts, stalking, rural setting, parents dating

Themes: family, trust, absent parents, secrets

Summary: Cameron and his mom are being hunted by his dad. In their isolated farmhouse, Cameron sees and hears things that aren’t possible. Soon he’s questioning everything – including his sanity. What’s hiding in the night? Buried in the past? Cameron must uncover the secrets before they tear him apart. (Source)

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2018 Favorite Books for Middle Schoolers

And now, I present to you… my favorite books for middle school readers published in 2018!

(…that I’ve read so far.  I’ll get back to you on the rest.)


Click a book cover to see its Goodreads page.


The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor

This is showing up on all the award prediction lists, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s an honest, vulnerable piece of realistic fiction with an engaging voice. I want to give Mason a huge hug. Recommended for grades 4 and up.



Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

This funny, inventive adventure is full of powerful young women, growing friendship, and best of all, fascinating Hindu mythology. It’s sparked a big interest in the subject for me. I love that Rick Riordan is supporting Own Voices authors telling stories based in their own mythology to complement his Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Norse ones. Recommended for grades 4 and up.


Game Changer by Tommy Greenwald

This title has a ton of potential for reluctant readers.  It’s a loving examination of football that also takes a serious look at some serious problems with the sport and its culture.  And since it’s written in verse, it flies by. Recommended for grades 6 and up. (There is some mention of underage drinking, though it doesn’t occur “onscreen” and isn’t condoned.)Read more“2018 Favorite Books for Middle Schoolers”

Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell (2016)

frozenAtmospheric horror with a wide age-range appeal and creepy dolls.

Recommended grade level: 6 and up

Pages:   298 (for ISBN 9780545941082)

Genre(s) and keywords: horror

Tone/Style: bleak, scary

Pace: moderate to fast

Topics: curses, ghosts, dolls, possession, death

Themes: aftermath of tragedy, grief, family

Summary: Dunvegan School for Girls has been losed for many years. Converted into a family home, the teachers and the students are long gone. But they left something behind…Read more“Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell (2016)”

Unstoppable: True Stories of Amazing Bionic Animals by Nancy Furstinger (2017)

unstoppableCute, inspiring, and photo-heavy, this feel-good title is great for browsing.

Recommended grade level: 4 and up

Pages:  128 (for ISBN 9780544879669)

Genre(s) and keywords: nonfiction, science, reluctant readers

Tone/Style: positive, encouraging

Pace: fast

Topics: medical technology, prosthetics

Themes: differently-abled, innovation, helping others, overcoming challenges

Summary: In Unstoppable, animals are both benefiting from and helping out the world of prosthetic science – including all species, situations, and science backgrounds. From the high-tech science of 3D printing, to inflatables, to toy wheels, this title has it all. Unstoppable is a perfect fit for science enthusiasts and animal lovers alike. (Source)Read more“Unstoppable: True Stories of Amazing Bionic Animals by Nancy Furstinger (2017)”

Program – Build to Battle

Using office supplies and instructions from the Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction book series by John Austin, create tiny catapults, bows and arrows, and other “weapons” then compete in challenges with them.


You may be able to find what you need among you existing office supplies, or solicit donations of materials.  In this case, you could potentially run the program without buying anything.  I had a healthy budget to work with and ended up spending about $50 on building materials.

Why do it?

There’s a little bit of every STEAM element—science, technology, engineering, art, and math—in this program.  Not many activities hit on all that, particularly not ones with this high appeal for pre-teens and teens.  It’s a great program for disguising educational elements behind a ton of fun elements.

A Word About Weapons

Our culture has a complicated relationship with weapons. Personally, I am a pacifist through and through and I still think there’s something really cool about a big honkin’ crossbow.  (As long as it’s not being shot at any people.  Or animals.  I may like crossbows but I’m also a vegetarian.)  It’s possible to channel that “coolness” factor into an activity that builds STEAM skills, creativity, and a sense of healthy competition, without glorifying violence.  You definitely need to be comfortable with it, though.  If you’re unsure, don’t feel like you have to do this type of program.  I stuck to projects replicating medieval-type weapons, nothing modern, because I was more comfortable with that.  We also called the program “Build to Battle” to avoid referencing weapons in the title.

Safety Rules and Procedures

Provide goggles for kids to wear in case of flying shrapnel (aka, on the off-chance they send a piece of a clothespin flying toward someone’s face or something).

Whatever you have the kids “firing” with their weapons, make sure it is not dangerous and is easy to clean up.  (FYI, marshmallows may seem like a good idea, but are not easy to clean up when they’ve been accidentally stomped on.)  Some of the things Austin suggests using in Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction, like toothpicks and skewers, are too dangerous for my comfort.  I use pom poms and Q-tips whenever possible.

Tape off an area of the room as the “firing zone.” No one can go into the firing zone except at designated times, which you decide. At those times, you will make sure no one is firing anything.  “Weapons” can only be fired into the firing zone and nowhere else.

Depending on what project you use, you may want to pre-prep some of the materials.  For example, if something needs to be cut with a knife, do that part yourself ahead of time.

The Activities

Choose a few activities from John Austin’s Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction books.  You will need to be selective.  Some of the activities in the books are too hard, too expensive, or too dangerous for a library program setting.

These are the books. If you can only get one, I suggest the first one.

Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction: Build Implements of Spitball Warfare

Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction 2: Build A Secret Agent Arsenal

Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction 3: Build Siege Weapons of the Dark Ages

Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction 4: Build and Master Ninja Weapons

When choosing your activities, the biggest factor after safety is whether you are comfortable with the project.  You should be able to make it and have your finished product work properly.  Use your own product as a sample at the program.  If you manage to make it work, but aren’t sure quite how you did it or if you could do it again, or if you don’t think the kids could do it, then choose something simpler.

These are projects I have done with middle school kids with success.  Since kids come with a wide range of abilities and interest, I like to have a few projects to try, some easier and some harder, and let them choose which they want to do.

Tri-clip Bow, Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction 3: Build Siege Weapons of the Dark Ages, p. 235-238

This is extremely quick and easy.  It works well as a warm-up and confidence booster.  I used Q-tips instead of matchsticks or toothpicks.

Simple Crossbow, Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction: Build Implements of Spitball Warfare, p. 55-58

This is possibly me favorite. It’s simple and gets really impressive range.  The downside: it requires taking apart a ballpoint pen, which is a lot harder than it looks.  Definitely prep the pens yourself ahead of time rather than having kids try to do it.


#2 Catapult, Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction: Build Implements of Spitball Warfare, p. 129-134

Another one’s that’s great for its simplicity, though there’s a trade-off; I don’t think it’s quite as cool as some of the harder ones.

Hanger Slingshot, Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction: Build Implements of Spitball Warfare, p. 79-82

This has wicked range.  You will need to keep an eye on how the kids are using the hangers, though; a cut-up hanger could become dangerous.

Siege Catapult, Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction: Build Implements of Spitball Warfare, p. 143-150

This is a classic project that some of the kids are likely to have done  in some form before.  The result looks really cool.  Its range is respectable if you do it right, but it’s not huge.  It’s not the easiest project.  When I make them, I often have to do some tinkering to get everything in place for it to stay together and work well.

Plasticware Crossbow, Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction 3: Build Siege Weapons of the Dark Ages, p. 149-156

None of the kids actually took me up on the opportunity to make this one, I think because it looks complicated and they were intimidated. But if you have a crowd that likes a challenge, I did get this one to work, and it was awesome.

The Challenges

To give the program (and projectiles) some focus, it’s best to have some kind of game or goal.   Some ideas:

-Have kids build structure out of some light, easy-to-knock-over object (I used our stash of toilet paper tubes).  Then challenge them to destroy each other’s structures with their mini weapons.

-See who can shoot or propel a projectile the farthest.

-Set up a target and have them try to hit it.

If you have any questions or want to talk to me about this program, feel free to leave a comment or email

-Kylie Peters

Program – Color Tag

What is It?

Participants throw color powder (also called powder paint or Holi powder) at each other, trying to cover everyone with as much of their team’s color as possible.



About $500 for 60 kids.


Number of participants

As many as you can afford to supply with powder!Read more“Program – Color Tag”

Program – Extreme Library

What is it?

After the library is closed, middle schoolers can come play active games throughout the library building.  I like to really play up the fact that they will have the library to themselves, and be allowed to do things we wouldn’t normally allow.  Hence the “extreme”…though of course, it’s all perfectly safe and legal. 😉  This is the program description I use: “Zombie tag in the Library? An extreme scavenger hunt in the stacks? That can’t be allowed…but we’re going to try it anyway! We won’t tell if you don’t.”



Anywhere from free, to however much you want to spend.  If your budget it low, plan activities that use materials you already own.


Why Do It?

When you’re doing something unconventional like this, it’s a good idea to prepare for the possibility that your reasoning will be challenged. Read more“Program – Extreme Library”

Program – Laser Tag at the Library

What is it?

After the library is closed, invite middle schoolers to play laser tag in the building.



$300-$700, depending on the equipment you use.


Number of participants

This can vary a lot.  If you rent equipment, most rental companies will offer 10 to 20 laser taggers at a time.  It’s often cost-effective to have the equipment for a block of time.  I like to get the equipment for three hours, and break it into three time slots; participants can sign up for one slot.  Each one-hour slot has 20 players (10 on each team), so I get 60 total in one night.  After all the instructions and suiting up, I’m usually able to give the participants 40 minutes of play during their timeslot, which seems a good amount of time to me.Read more“Program – Laser Tag at the Library”