It is a perennial problem for libraries that serve both children and teenagers; what to do when your fifth and sixth graders want to get into reading the novels in the YA section? Admittedly, my library set-up is fairly unusual; we have one library, serving a total of 475 girls in grades 1 through 12. However, even if you are lucky enough to have separate libraries for different divisions, I’m sure you still face this issue!
I enjoy spending time with our grade five and six students, helping them browse the shelves for a good book. Inevitably, someone will ask for a ‘romance’, and after their giggles have subsided, I try to quickly come up with some titles that will be of interest, but that are not too racy or explicit. It’s probably my most challenging readers’ advisory task!
When recommending books to this age group I do tend to err on the side of caution, but try to never say no. Nothing makes a book more desirable than me saying someone can’t read it! In cases where the student is reading far beyond her age, I will send an email home with a heads-up for mom and dad that ‘Suzy’ is reading said book, and find that this usually minimizes any potential issues. I am lucky; we have a reasonably liberal parent community (we ARE Canadian!), and have only had one challenge in my eleven years at the school (that’s a story for another day…).
Another complication to the issue is that we have self-service checkout. We have had self-service checkout for years, and it works well for us. However, nothing is worse than the feeling you get in your stomach when you are checking in books and realize a grade 5 has been reading something that may be a little beyond her years… I always follow up in these cases, and am pleased to report that our girls are pretty good judges of their own reading levels. Interestingly,one grade 6 student who took Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (despite our suggestion that she might like something different) said she returned it the next day because it was boring. If only she’d read a little further to get to the good stuff!
So, here are my top books for fifth and sixth graders that are teen-y, but not too teen-y. All of them are shelved in our YA section, but I happily recommend them to my older elementary students. Please also remember that all school communities are different and what works for me here may not be appropriate for your setting…
Shug by Jenny Han
This lovely book tells the story of Shug (Annemarie), and her first year at Junior High. Life is changing quickly for her; she’s meeting lots of new people, and Mark, the boy she’s always been best friends with, is starting to look a little different… I have recommended this book hundreds of times to fifth and sixth graders, and have never had anyone say they didn’t like it. It’s my number one ‘romance without really being a romance’ book for tweens.
The Georgia Nicolson books by Louise Rennison
If you can get past the title of the first book in the series (Angus, Thongs and Full-frontal Snogging – and be aware that it’s not the footwear thongs she’s talking about), your students will be rewarded with a great series about fourteen-year-old Georgia, and her minute by minute account of her time spent with friends, obsessions with boys and worries that she may have to move to New Zealand. Hilarious throughout, you’ll get lots of questions about British slang (although there is a helpful glossary at the end of each book), but you and your students will grow to love Georgia.
The Princess Diary series by Meg Cabot
Every year I think that this series will disappear into obscurity, and every year the books in Meg Cabot’s signature series get signed out over and over again. They’re great books with a strong female character, and are more ‘crush’ than ‘romance’; I really like the way Cabot handles the blossoming relationship between Mia and Michael. Be warned, however, that the later books in the series can get a bit more racy, but the first four are perfect for grade five and six students.
The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers
Karen Rivers writes great (early) middle grade fiction. The Encyclopedia of Me features Think, a thirteen year old with two older brothers (who of whom is autistic), who is recording her daily movements in her ‘encyclopedia’. Her best friend, Freddie Blue, has been at her side for years, but what happens when they both start to like Kai, the cool new skateboarder who has just moved into the neighbourhood?
Words that start with B / Love is a four-letter word / Days that end in Y by Vikki VanSickle
Canadian author VanSickle has written the perfect middle grade series; her novels are much-loved by our grade 5 & 6 students. The first novel in the series, Words that start with B, introduces us to Clarissa and her best friend Benji. As well as dealing with all of the usual early teen issues and angst, Clarissa is also dealing with her mom’s illness; she has breast cancer. This novel is a lovely read for grade five and six students, and I applaud VanSickle for her sensitive handling of a complex issue. The romance that slowly develops between Clarissa and her classmate, Michael, is also very well done.
Please leave a comment below if you have any further suggestions for romance-hungry grade five and six students!
Claire, you’re off to a good start with this post! I have the same problem with precocious 4th graders in our K-4 library who occasionally request a book that is more YA than I select for our collection. I am able to say, “That book is in the Reed-Gumenick Library for you to check out next year.” Is that begging the question? Probably but I’m glad I have that option.
Thanks, Allison. If we had more than one library I would definitely use that line!
Claire! Great post and very thoughtful. We run into this as well with our 6-12 library here. We use Novelist and teach the students to check it for reviews and recommended grade levels, but we also try to give recommended grade levels on the inside cover for all the grade 9 and up books. This label alerts our student library proctors that the middle schooler checking out the book isn’t in the right grade and needs to go talk with our middle school library about getting his/her parent’s permission to read out of their grade level or to get another recommendation.
Thanks, CD! I like the idea of teaching students to use Novelist. Always a great source of alternative recommendations…
A wonderful inaugural post to our community blog, Claire! The challenge of selecting pre-YA or early-YA romance books seems universal. I like to know that our library is not alone in trying to help put the best book in the right hands. I appreciate your book suggestions!
Thanks, Milly! Any titles to share?
What a great post, Claire! I remember being a children’s librarian in my 20s, when Judy Blume published a *new* book called Forever. My under-12-yr-old patrons wanted to read it and it created quite the dilemma in the public library in the ’70s. Thanks for the great suggestions; they’ll work well in our 7/8 middle school reading list!
I remember sneaking Forever past my mum and dad! I wonder if it still causes the furore it used to. When I re-read it recently, it had not aged well…
Loved the post (pun intended) and agree with your Shug recommendation! Other books that aren’t too mature for 5th/6th grade include Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes; Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani; and The Summer Sherman Loved Me by Jane St. Anthony.
Olive’s Ocean is a wonderful book. Thanks for the other suggestions!
Good idea and nice list. I think the romance element of the Sammy Keyes mystery series by Wendelin Van Draanen stays at a level that’s good for 5th and 6th graders. I love recommending those books to tween mystery fans who also want there to be some kind of dating or love story.
Yes – great suggestion! My girls love that series!
As a fan of YA (and pre-YA) romance myself, I am happy to see your recs. One thing about moving to my current school of grades 10-12, I’ve moved away from middle school material, to my sorrow. One title that I still re-read for nostalgia’s sake is Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen. I wonder if there are young readers today who would enjoy the ‘old timey’ flavor of that classic? They might find the details interesting: girdles and gloves for a date? Being embarrassed because your mom isn’t wearing stockings when your beau comes over?
Great start, Claire!
I really enjoyed reading this post and the synopses for your recommendations (if only I had had these suggestions when I was at the middle age!). I have a couple of suggestions based on personal enjoyment:
-All-American Girl, by Meg Cabot (loved the teenage sarcasm from the narrator’s pov, with just enough “crush” to entertain tweens)
-Avalon High, by Meg Cabot (again Meg Cabot! I love this one for its references to Arthurian legend)
-I’d tell you I love you but then I’d have to kill you, by Ally Carter (I think the girl character is strong familiar to any reader, and I loved the context of junior espionage!)
Claire — Great article, thanks for sharing! Even though these days my collection development interests are focused on boys, I always like to hear what’s good for younger girls. You’ve always been a great source of recommendations for Dara 😉 Cheers!