I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best Books of 2014

From my meager list of 79 books read in 2014 (my personal challenge was 73) - my favorites...

A Book ALL Educators Should Read:
     Choice Words by Peter Johnston
          This is, hands down, the BEST book I've read for my profession. I couldn't stop reading it once I started. Everyone who works with children should read this treasure. Ever since I found out about how teachers shame students (even without being conscious of it), I've been more aware of what words I use. This book will hopefully help me convey the message to students that they truly DO matter. Their actions, words, choices... all of it matters, and we are all on the same journey - together. If you work with children, and you care about them READ THIS BOOK. This coming year, I will try to use these ideas with adults, as well...! (Quick tip blog post on how to use this book when giving feedback on writing...)

Books My Seventh Graders Should Read:
     The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez
          Well, the girls should read this one, at least... I was hooked from the first two pages. I purchased this book thinking of high schoolers' 20% projects... The impact from this project was nationwide. The writing wasn't the very best, but it wasn't written by a writer - it was written by a young lady who wanted to change stereotypes, and help young teen females. I will recommend this to young ladies - I think any young lady could handle the message, as it is stated often and in various forms.

     The Hate List by Jennifer Brown
          Okay, maybe not in seventh grade, but eighth, and definitely in high school... Mature? Yes. So many issues were brought up from this story of a school shooting - I think the author covered most of them. Not in too much depth (or I'd be crying the entire time), but enough to make you think about every aspect of your behavior and the behavior of others. It's a great reminder that EVERY person has a story. Get to know it.

Reluctant Reader (7th grade):
     The Running Dream by Wendelin VanDraanen
          LOVED it! So glad a group of 7th grade girls recommended it to me. It's on our Rebecca Caudill list this year, and we used it for our all-school summer read. Everything in it is totally appropriated, and it has powerful messages. I'd recommend this to any sports freak and anyone who has difficulty with something in his/her life. It teaches the message of "one day at a time..."

     Memory Boy by Will Weaver
          I put this one off for a bit too long, I think. It grabbed me from the beginning, and since it was an easy read, I enjoyed breezing through the action mixed in with flashbacks of weeks before the volcano had erupted... I will suggest this to students who have fierce memories, and ones who liked Hatchet.

Graphic Novel:
     Page By Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
          I really enjoyed this quick read, and I understood it! (I'm not a big GN fan.) I have the perfect student for this book - one that doesn't know who she is, and is constantly battling herself inside her head. Things don't always go her way and either she thinks it's all her fault, or she blames her mom for everything. There are three instances of language (that really don't need to be in there to make it effective! UGH!) that make this book "young adult." A 7th grader might not catch what they mean and gloss over them (I hope).

Historical Fiction:
     Fallout by Todd Strasser
          What if? What if your family was the one to build the bomb shelter - with enough supplies for your family ONLY - and six other people decided to join you on the day the bomb was dropped? This story kept me reading. I didn't like the way every other chapter was from a different time (in the shelter, then three days prior), but it came together nicely. Some mature parts.

     The Perfect Shot by Elaine Marie Alphin
          I'm glad I read this sports mystery, even though I really don't care for sports or mystery books! this book has it all - the dangers of racism, justice, murder, policemen-gone-bad, court, prejudices, history... I liked how it had almost an adult book feel to it. (Our local library has it in the YA and adult sections.) I'm glad it ended how it did - sort of a happy ending, and sort of not. The very end was predictable, but not all that happened in between. Good thought-provoking book. I'll have to figure out who the right kind of person is who'll want to read this one... Favorite quote - "How you act on the court is how you'll act off the court."

     Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
          Thank you, Yvette, for this great gift for our classroom! I engulfed this one and it will have a place of honor on our shelves. (Some content may be too mature for 7th grade.)
          Page after page is decorated with humans - each one has a story. Do you know it, or do you pretend to know it? With seventh graders judging 1,000,000 ways to Sunday, this is the perfect book to share with them.

     Seraphina's Promise by Ann Burg
          I thought this book about Seraphina's promise to herself (and to her baby brother who had passed) was very sweet. Filled with Haitian Creole phrases and melodramatic rhythm, this book written in prose was the perfect companion to me on my snow/cold day off of school. I don't know if you can count it as historical fiction, but it does include the earthquake Haiti suffered in 2010. I'd recommend this to anyone who likes books in prose, quick reads, and who appreciates all they have. I have some very simple quotes from this book that say a ton about life.

Science Fiction:
     Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
          Woah. This book sucked me in from the first page. Being a teen of the 80s and a video gamer (alas, I've tamed that addiction), I loved the premise of this book. I know just what 8th graders need to read it, too! There was one sexually-mature page, and quite a bit of foul language, but I was able to overlook those and see the point of the story - get out and ENJOY this world!!

     Unbroken, by Laura Hillanbrand
          I started this book a couple of years ago, and loaned it out when I was at chapter five - about 30 pages in. I picked it up again and finished it in three days. I don't know what to say except that I doubt I will ever read another book like it. The fact that Louis Zamperini actually came away unbroken and lived with unbridled effervescence until this year is astounding. Stellar role model and inspiration... We're heading to see the movie for New Year's Eve tonight - I hope they do it justice.

I Can't Believe I Kept Reading It:
     Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov
           Actually, I didn't read this entire book this year... It took me two years to finish! As my ears got red and I felt I had to hide while reading this book, I can't believe I actually finished it! I don't know what to think about it, but I'm glad I read this book I've only heard whispered about! ("Didn't you have to read Lolita in college?" Nope!)

You're Next:
     What were your favorites of 2014? Please leave yours in the comments so we all have more great books to devour! Here's to 2015!


  1. Cool list. Would you recommend The Perfect Shot for 6th graders? I think a good mystery would make for a fun read aloud.

    1. Hi, Justin! I don't know about The Perfect Shot for 6th grade... I was going to recommend it to my skilled readers at 7th. That being said, however, if they're into basketball, they might appreciate the game dynamics in this book better than I did. There's nothing inappropriate in it, just mature topics about race.