The first one is called "Goodbye Stranger" by Rebecca Stead. I have been mystified by why people love Rebecca Stead's writing. Ok, well, I get why they like her writing, she writes about quirky, interesting characters, but I've really hated some of the plot twists she puts in. "When you reach me" and "Liar and Spy" I found annoying BUT "Goodbye Stranger" is so great! She has these completely amazing characters-Bridge (short for Bridget) who was in a life threatening accident as a third grader and told that she must have some big purpose in life to have survived such a terrible accident so now as a seventh grader, she's still wondering what that purpose might be. She has two best friends, Tab (short for Tabitha) and Em (short for Emily), who, although they are very different people, have been friends since elementary school, although going to middle school has strained their friendship. There is also a second story teller, who is also a girl, but unnamed, and at first does not appear to be connected in any way to the first characters but in Rebecca Stead fashion, it turns out, they ARE connected, in a big way. Anyway, as they move through their seventh grade year, they have many choices and that's what makes this book so great. Choices like, should you send a boy a picture of yourself because you really, really like him? Should you join a club because it interests you or because your friends are in the club? Should you continue to be friends with a person because you've been friends with them a long time or are there lines that get crossed where you can't go back? I'm not sure if I can put this one in my elementary library, but boy, I can't WAIT to start recommending kids read it.
The second one I read is called "The Churchill Club" by Phillip Hoose. It's a non-fiction book about a group of middle school kids in Denmark during World War 2 that essentially waged a guerrilla war against the Nazis. It's built heavily around interviews with one of the initial organizers, Knud Pedersen. There are lots of photographs that remind you that this a completely true story and these things really happened. It tells how a group of middle school kids would get an idea to try to fight against the Nazis in a country where the king essentially allowed the Nazis to come without a fight, the kinds of things that they did, and the consequences of what they did. I also really loved the ending that told what happened to each of the kids after the war (I always hate it when they end these kinds of book at the end of the war, as though the war is the only thing that was important). There is also an extensive list of the sources the author used to write the book, which I think would be great to show kids. This would be an excellent addition to any unit about World War 2 but it would also be good to use when talking about civil disobedience.
The last sparkly one this week is called "A Whole New Ballgame" by Phil Bildner. It's a fiction book about a group of fifth graders who are living with a new teacher. This is a very diverse group of kids (kids who speak different languages at home, kids who are autistic, kids who are in wheelchairs) and are surprised that because of budget cuts, they have a new teacher. Their new teacher is a lot different from their old teacher (who had been teaching for at least 25 years), this new teacher has tattoos, thinks kids should learn because it's awesome, read whatever they choose, and should not spend their time preparing for tests. It talks about the pressure on teachers to practice test taking skills, the value of research and friendship and teamwork. It also has a really great narrator and although it probably has a happier ending than it needed, I think kids are really going to like this one a lot. You might use this one with books by Amare Stoudemire called "STAT" because of the themes of basketball and character or "4 kids in 5E and 1 crazy year" by Virginia Schwartz which has themes of writing, test taking, diversity, and friendship.