This first one is called "Serafina's Promise" by Ann Burg. This book is written in verse and it's about a girl named Serafina who lives with her parents and her grandmother. Serafina also has a baby brother who is sick. Serafina's family lives in Haiti (which is never stated but you can kind of figure it out. The kids might need help though). Her family is too poor for her to go to school but when they visit the doctor, Serafina is inspired to become a doctor, and so she starts trying to think of ways to convince her mother that it's a good idea to let her go to school. Her mother has had a lot of trauma in her life (which you learn about as you read) and so letting Serafina go to school doesn't really seem like a good idea, but Serafina and her dad wear her mother down, until eventually mom agrees that Serafina can go to school. Life in Haiti is difficult though and two big things happen, one is a flood that sweeps away Serafina's house and the second is an earthquake, which is even more devastating. I liked this story and I know there are a lot kids in my school that have been to Haiti or have relatives there and will be able to strongly identify with Serafina. I wonder though, for the most part, if the kids will really be able to empathize with someone who wants to go to school so badly. Most of our kids take school for granted and they can't imagine why anyone would be so motivated to go to school. I think it would make for a good conversation. This one would connect well with one I just read called "I am Drums" by Mike Grosso, which also has a strong and highly motivated girl character, or "Ruby's Wish" by Shirin Yim Bridges , which also has a girl character who really wants to go to school. You could also pair it up with "Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson, which is also written in verse.
The second one is called "The Worm Whisperer" by Betty Hicks. It's about Ellis who lives in a small town in NC. Ellis lives with both his parents, but his dad hurt his back and can't work. Ellis is very worried about him but his dad needs an operation and since dad isn't working, they don't have enough money for the operation. Ellis comes up with a plan to race a wooly worm, which all his friends think is a big joke but Ellis feels like he can really talk to the worm. There are some funny parts, like when Ellis takes the worm to church, and some scary parts, when the worm disappears, but it's a really nice story. Ellis works hard to help his family and it's a really good story.
The last one (for now) is called "Eddie Red-Mystery on Museum Mile" by Marcia Wells. It's about a boy named Edmund who is 11 and lives with his mom and dad and attends a private school for the gifted. Edmund's life is set for upheaval when his dad loses his job. No job means no more private school and Edmund really loves his school. About that same time, his dad breaks up a fight in an alley and it comes to the attention of the police that Edmund has a unique gift-he has a photographic memory, which allows him to recreate pictures of things he's seen. He's also a very good artist so he can draw what he has seen very accurately. Some one in the police department thinks it would be a good idea to have Edmund come in and help the police on a case they've been trying to solve about series of thefts from different museums. The detective, Detective Bonano, isn't crazy about this idea but Edmund persists and they tell him they will pay for his tuition if he solve the crime. Detective Bonano gives him an alias-Eddie Red. This is a very fun book to read. Eddie has a great voice-the chapters are very short and are interspersed with the pictures that Eddie is talking about drawing. Ed also has a terrific friend named Jonah who is an interesting sidekick. I think the kids are going to like this mystery. It was dangerous enough without being too scary. It would also pair well with John Grisham's new series, Theodore Boone, Kid Detective, which was also a great series about a boy who solves mysteries.