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!