Books for Kids
Book Reviewed: Frank, Anne. (2001, English translation). The Diary of a Young Girl. New York: Doubleday.

Summary: Anne is a thirteen-year-old girl who spends two years hiding in an Amsterdam warehouse from the Nazis. She shares her space with her own family and another family, the Van Daans, who are also in seclusion. During her two years in confinement, Ann puts her thoughts to paper. Some of her memories are those of a typical young girl—how she dislikes her mother, and squabbles periodically with other members of the trapped families—but there are moments when she ponders “big questions,” such as what it means to be good and whether or not the elderly are lonelier than the young. Anne doesn’t get to finish her diary, as their hiding place is eventually discovered and they are moved to the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen, where in March of 1945, she dies, only three months before the war in Europe grinds to a halt.

What you should know before middle school kids read this book: This is probably the most famous diary ever published by a young adolescent, which in this case, is unfortunately posthumously. There is no happy ending here, but it will give kids an indication of what someone their own age was thinking in horrible circumstances during the terrible times of World War II. It also will add a personal touch to the sheer incomprehensible number of the six million Jews who died in the German concentration camps. However, compared to the books written for middle school kids today, kids may find the pace of the diary rather slow.

Why middle school kids should read this book: In addition to their other reading selections, kids should be reading historical books and learning about the great moments in history where the best and worst of humankind behaviors occurred. Because this diary was composed by a young girl, closer to their age, it should have a greater impact than simply reading a history book about World War II.

Discussion points with kids:

  • What is the purpose of a diary? Why do people write diaries? Why did Anne keep a diary?
  • Find three examples in the book of where Anne became frustrated living in close quarters. Imagine yourself in her situation. How would you feel?
  • The story is told through Anne’s viewpoint. Is Anne an accurate reporter of the facts and details? Why?
  • Anne’s diary was found after the war was over. Why did her family agree to publish the diary? Would you want your diary to be published? Under what circumstances do you believe it is acceptable to publish someone’s private diary?
  • Look for evidence in the diary of why the characters in the story believed the Nazi’s hated the Jews. Find three examples.

Overall evaluation of this book: A good example of how historical events stay alive from beyond the grave. It’s a solid book, but there are better ones available to middle school kids which tell of the horrors suffered by the Jews and others during World War II. Three Stars ★★★

Book Reviewed: Hinton, S.E. (1967). The Outsiders. New York: Penguin Group.

Summary: Fourteen-year-old Ponyboy is the narrator in this story about the clash between the greasers and the socs. The greasers, of which Ponyboy is a proud member, are kids who live on the “outside.” The greasers are constantly watching their back for trouble which seems to exist all around them. The socs are the group the rich kids hang around with, and the greasers believe the socs can get away with practically anything—even things like beating up greasers. The story is told from the greaser’s point of view and, as can be expected, events spiral out of control quickly as the two rival gangs clash. Eventually one of the socs is killed by a greaser and Ponyboy goes into hiding with another member of the greasers. I won’t give away the ending of the story, but millions of middle school kids have read the conclusion and been emotionally touched on at least some level.

What you should know before middle school kids read this book: This was perhaps the most popular adolescent fiction book of all-time—until Harry Potter came along. The story seems to resonate and appeal to kids from all decades since the 1970’s. There is a good chance kids will read this book in school, but if they don’t, it is worth considering accidently leaving it on the kitchen table to see if they will pick it up and start reading. The novel is very short and the plot line clips along at a steady pace.

Why middle school kids should read this book: The themes of loyalty and friendship and the internal battles and dialogues as teens try to figure things out are eternal. Don’t worry about the publication date of the book—although kids may initially be worried about something written “so long ago.” Kids who are reluctant readers, seem to really like this book. Teachers have been giving this novel to reluctant readers for years with great success.

Discussion points with kids:

  • Do you know anyone like Ponyboy? What makes you believe they are like Ponyboy? Are you like Ponyboy? How?
  • How are the greasers and the socs the same? How are they different?
  • Predict what would have happened if the soc had not been killed.
  • There is a poem in this book. Do you think it fits the story? Which poem would you have selected? Why?
  • Why is this book called The Outsiders? What title would you have given the book?

Overall evaluation of this book: A timeless book with lots of appeal to middle school kids trying to figure out where they fit in the grand scheme of life. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: London, Jack. (2003). The Call of the Wild and White Fang. New York: Barnes and Noble Books.

Summary: These are two famous books and I’m including both together in one review because they are really mirror images of one another. In The Call of the Wild, a dog named Buck is taken from his comfy home in California and forced to be a sled dog during the 1890’s Yukon gold rush. Buck is treated brutally, both by his owner and by some of the other sled dogs. In the end, he hears the calling of nature and melts back into the wilds of Alaska. In White Fang, a wild dog-wolf pup is found by humans and turned into a savage beast by his owner, who uses him as a fighting dog in the pits. White Fang is rescued eventually by a kindly Judge, and ends up living a contented life.

What you should know before middle school kids read this book: These are dog books which have thrilled adults and kids for over a hundred years. Each book can be read separately but I think that if they are read together, as companion books, or volume one and volume two, if you will, they will make lots of sense as a package deal. The Call of the Wild is about a German Shepherd-St. Bernard cross leaving civilization, becoming brutalized, and then fleeing into the depths of the woods. White Fang is about a dog-wolf cross who is taken from the wilderness and then tortured and forced to fight, while ultimately being saved by a kind human. In a sense they are opposites or mirror images of one another.

Why middle school kids should read this book: These books are fantastic reads, especially for animal and more precisely, dog lovers. London spends a considerable amount of time writing about and showing how nature and animals and humans work together (or don’t) and the books can be discussed at a very high intellectual level or otherwise simply taken as good stories. The sentence structure in both books will be slightly more challenging for middle school kids, and for this reason these books are more suitable for stronger younger middle school readers or for older middle schoolers.

Discussion points with kids:

  • What do you think Jack London is trying to say about the relationships between the dogs and nature? Find three specific examples from the book to support your claim.
  • Do you know anyone who treats animals badly? What do the adults who treat the dogs badly in the book have in common with the individuals you know who treat animals badly? What do they not have in common?
  • What was the Yukon Gold Rush? Do some research to find more information. Pretend you own a hardware store and want to sell lots of shovels and axes to gold hunters. (Many hardware store owners made more money selling shovels and axes than did the people who came looking for gold.) Create a promotional flyer telling people in the lower states about the wonders of the gold rush.
  • London tells part of the stories from the dogs’ point of view. Write a 3-5 page story from the point of view of an animal you know. (It could be your family pet.)
  • If you read both stories, how are they the same? How are they different?

Overall evaluation of this book: Even though these books do not have middle-school-aged characters, don’t assume middle school kids won’t enjoy reading these stories. They will. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Orwell, George. (1946). Animal Farm. New York: Harcourt and Brace.

Summary: The animals living on Manor Farm have had enough. Inspired by the parting words by an old boar named Major, the animals revolt and take over the farm and send the worthless owner running down the road. The animals rejoice and decide to operate the farm for themselves. A set of rules or commandments is painted on the side of the barn. The commandments are that: one, whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy, two, whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend, three, no animal shall wear clothes, four, no animal shall sleep in a bed, five, no animal shall drink alcohol, six, no animal shall kill another animal, and seven, four legs good, two legs bad. The animals run the farm through collective wisdom and input from all the animals. Things go well for the first summer until the pigs decide to take over the operation of the farm. They tell the other animals that because they are “smart” they will make the decisions from now on and live in the abandoned farmhouse. Dissenters are weeded out and are either sent running for their lives or killed by the murderous pack of dogs which function as bodyguards for the pigs. Several attacks from humans, who try to take back the farm, are turned back, and the leader of the pigs, Napoleon, is eventually given several medals—by himself—for his gallant leadership during the battles. The book reaches a climax when Boxer, a devoted horse who gave his all for the farm, is sold to a glue factory so the pigs can get more alcohol. In the famous final scene, the pigs and humans, who are now working together to enrich their pockets at the expense of the workers, rise in argument with one another, and the workers, peeking in through a side window, cannot tell the difference between the humans and the pigs.

What you should know before middle school kids read this book: Don’t be frightened away from this book because it has been given the label of “classic.” It is eminently more readable than many other “classics” which are nearly impenetrable for many middle school kids. Also, even though Orwell was specifically shooting barbs at the communist leadership in the book, the novel can be enjoyed as a tale of power corrupting anyone in a leadership position, or who thinks they should be in a leadership role.

Why middle school kids should read this book: This is one of the shortest and more readable of the “classics” which are available to your middle school child. Not many kids will be reading this book, but don’t let that dissuade you from trying to get it into their hands. Once they start reading the first paragraph about how Mr. Jones, the owner of Manor Farms, drinks and snores too much, they will be hooked. Kids usually like reading about animals who have human characteristics.

Discussion points with kids:

  • What is an allegory? Why might Animal Farm be an allegory?
  • What does Boxer represent?
  • How closely did the pigs follow their own rules? Did they ever “bend” the rules? If so, why do you think the pigs did this? Does this ever happen in real life?
  • Think about your neighborhood and then about places around the world. Does anything like an “animal farms” exist in your neighborhood or somewhere else in the world? Compare what happens in the book with what happens in your neighborhood or in another location in the world?
  • Why don’t more adults and middle school kids read this book today?

Overall evaluation of this book: A “readable” classic kids should have contact with. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Schaefer, Jack. (1949). Shane. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Summary: This is one of the most famous Westerns ever written—and there have been a lot of Westerns penned by some very famous authors. The story line is the quintessential plot line from innumerable frontier towns: bad rancher tries to run the family farmers out of town, bad rancher hires evil gunslinger to frighten the good folk into leaving, strange man rides into town, helps out local farmers, strange man learns of evil gunslinger—but wait!—there’s a surprise!—stranger in town apparently is a retired gunslinger with a quick hand and deadly trigger finger—you can see where this is going—and ultimately the evil gunslinger and stranger with fast gun duel it out in the local saloon. Evil man is killed by kindly (but deadly) stranger with fast gun. Bad greedy rancher also gets his just rewards and is shot dead. Kindly (but deadly) stranger, even though taking one bullet, rides off into the sunset after giving a man-to-boy talk with the narrator boy.

What you should know before middle school kids read this book: This is a romantic version of the wild wild west and the story line has been told many times. Still, it’s a compelling story and kids may enjoy reading one of the most famous western stories ever penned. The story was originally published in 1949 and kids may not be too hip on reading something written by a dead man, but if they can get past that, it’s a ripping great story.

Why middle school kids should read this book: This is a classic which is often overlooked. Not very many middle school kids have read this book. It’s a short book—barely over a hundred pages, so it shouldn’t take kids very long to reach the thrilling conclusion. Many of the great myths found in Western stories can be found in this book and you may have lots of fun talking with them about the romantic, idealized, stock characters found in the story.

Discussion points with kids:

  • The narrator of the story is a young boy. How does this improve the telling of the story? How would the story be different if it were told from the point of view of somebody else?
  • Look in the book for common themes which happen in other books you may have read. For example, one of the themes in this book is about the battle between good and evil. What other books have you read which are also about the battle between good and evil?
  • How does the author use the colors of black and white to move the story forward? Where does the author use these colors?
  • Write a story (or tell a story) about what happened to Shane after he left the town or what happened to Shane before he arrived in town. What do you think happened to him?

Overall evaluation of this book: If kids likes adventure, historical, and western movies and books, they really shouldn’t graduate without having read this book. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. (1993). One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. New York: New American Library.

Summary: Ivan Denisovich Shukhov is a political prisoner in a Russian labor camp when Joseph Stalin rules the country with an iron fist in 1951. The story follows one day in Ivan’s life as a prisoner. He sleeps late but averts disaster only by having to clean the floors in the officer’s headquarters. Fortunately, another prisoner has saved him his breakfast ration. After hiding a piece of bread in his mattress, Ivan heads out to work with a group of fellow prisoners. They spend the day working on laying bricks. They are cold and hungry, but Ivan considers it a pretty good day at work since he wasn’t beaten or thrown into the hole and they had been able to stay out of the cold wind for part of the day. Back in camp, Ivan is relieved the guards neglected to search him. Had they done so, they would have found the piece of iron he found outside the camp and smuggled inside. Things continue to go well for Ivan and he gets extra bread for helping another prisoner. Just before falling asleep, Ivan Denisovich thinks about his good day and thanks God for helping him live for another day.

What you should know before middle school kids read this book: The book contains scenes of violence and injustice and some swearing. Unless kids are up on their history lessons, you may need to help explain the background and context of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Or better yet—encourage them to research the topic further. There aren’t many books which have been written on the Russian gulags but this is one which is eminently readable for middle school kids.

Why middle school kids should read this book: The book talks about an important part of world history which is often glossed over in historical textbooks—the aftermath of World War II and the internal repression that took place in the USSR, which resulted in the deaths of over one million citizens. History is sometimes best learned through story and this is a compelling story.

Discussion points with kids:

  • Before falling asleep at the end of the novel, Ivan Denisovich thinks about how the day has been a “good day.” Why do you think the author chooses a “good day” in Ivan Denisovich life at the labor camp to write about? Why didn’t he select a day in which more bad things happened?
  • Why did Joseph Stalin—the leader of Russia at the time—put so many of his own people into these work camps? What was he trying to accomplish? Did it work?
  • Compare your worst day with Ivan’s “good day” at the labor camp. How do they compare? What is the same? What is different/ • What things does Ivan do to stay alive? Do any of his actions harm or hurt any of the other prisoners? Why or why not?
  • Imagine you were imprisoned against your will and for no good reason. What would your story be? Write a short story about your day in prison, much like how Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote about Ivan Denisovich’s day.
  • Has this happened anywhere else in the world—where the leaders of the government imprisoned those who might disagree with them? Is it happening now? Where? Why is it still happening?

Overall evaluation of this book: A solid contribution to the cannon of literature about how the human spirit can penetrate even the darkest days of governmental and individual repression. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Stevenson, Robert Louis. (2005). Treasure Island. New York: Barnes and Nobles Books.

Summary: Jim Hawkins is a fourteen-year-old boy who manages to find himself in a precarious situation. He is confronted by a group of treasure-thirsty pirates who are convinced a massive hoard of treasure exists on a remote island. Of course, there is a treasure map and whoever holds the treasure map contains the knowledge necessary to retrieve the treasure. Over land and sea, complete with battles and fighting, counterattacks and deception, honor and the pirate’s code, Jim must become a man quickly or he will die on the island. Can he outwit Long John Silver?

What you should know before middle school kids read this book: This is the most famous pirate book ever written. It continues to be read and enjoyed by all ages despite the fact that its original publication date is now over 130 years old. I recently reread the book and was surprised at how quickly the plot moved along. Younger middle school readers may initially be frustrated by the language Stevenson uses in Treasure Island but once kids start reading, they will quickly become familiar with it. Many advanced readers will be just fine. Do not give this book to kids who either hate reading or those with significantly below-grade level reading skills. There are more appropriate books for them.

Why middle school kids should read this book: This book is the original source of many stereotypical images we currently hold of pirates—the parrot on the shoulder, the one-legged man with a wooden stump for a second, the strange workings of the pirate’s code, a mysterious map marked with a large X, and the promise of treasure buried on a deserted island. The story line contains loyalty and treachery, despair and hope, and friends and enemies. The problem is that sometimes it’s difficult to figure out which character is loyal and which is treacherous.

Discussion points with kids:

  • What images or pictures of pirates are created when you read this book? List 10 different images or pictures that you can think of. Don’t make any up. They must come from the book.
  • What is the pirate’s code? Find two examples of the pirate’s code in the book.
  • Do some research on pirates. Where in the world did they exist? Why did they exist? What were pirates really like?
  • Compare pirates in Treasure Island with how they are depicted in the movies.(Think about the pirates in the famous movie, Pirates of the Caribbean.) How are they similar? How are they different?
  • The story is told from the point of view of young Jim Hawkins. How would the story have been different if it had been told from the point of view of Long John Silver? Pick a scene and rewrite it from Long John Silver’s point of view. Don’t make it any longer than five pages.

Overall evaluation of this book: This book still rocks, even though many people think it is a difficult book to read. It is not. Give it a try. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Steinbeck, John. (1945). The Red Pony. New York: Bantam Books.

Summary: This book is actually a series of four somewhat unrelated short stories. “The Gift,” which is the first short story and the most famous one within the book, is about a red pony that Jody, a young boy on a ranch in Salinas, California in the early 20th century, raises with the help of a ranch hand named Billy Buck. Unfortunately, the pony, which Jody names Gabilan, catches a cold and dies. Jody finds the trail of his dying pony and arrives to discover his pet being eaten by buzzards. The second short story, “The Great Mountains,” is about an old man who returns to his childhood ranch to die. The third story, “The Promise,” concerns the death of a mare during the delivery of a colt. The final short story, “The Leader of the People,” is about Jody’s grandfather, reflecting back on the year he led a group of settlers across the plains and mountains to their new home in California and his current station in life as an elderly man who doesn’t have much time left to live. In a sense, all four short stories revolve around the themes of life and death and the passage of time.

What you should know before middle school kids read this book: John Steinbeck is well-known for his sense of realism and being straight to the point in his writing. Consequently, don’t expect any positive “spin” about the difficulties encountered while living on a farm in California. Some of the scenes are brutal and Steinbeck makes no attempt to soften the realities of life and death. Even though the title suggests this book is a horse story—this isn’t really the case. There are, however, specific vocabulary words related to saddles and horse culture, so kids may need to look up some of the words to really understand some of the finer details as to what is occurring in the story line.

Why middle school kids should read this book: Few middle school kids are going to select this book on their own. The pace is slower—as fitting of the times—than the frantic pace modern fiction authors use when writing middle school books, so you may need to explain to the kids (or better yet—have them explore and investigate)—the time period around which Steinbeck wrote his books. That said, an argument can be made for kids having contact with some of Steinbeck’s writings and The Red Pony is a decent place to start. This book is more appropriate for kids who have good reading skills and to also have at their disposal an adult or group of like-minded kids to verbally process what they have just read. Don’t hand this book to middle school kids if they hate reading or have poor reading skills.

Discussion points with kids:

  • What is Steinbeck trying to say in the first story, “The Gift?” Find three specific examples from the story to support your case.
  • What is Steinbeck trying to say in the second story, “The Great Mountains?” Find three specific examples from the story to support your case.
  • What is Steinbeck trying to say in the third story, “The Promise?” Find three specific examples from the story to support your case.
  • What is Steinbeck trying to say in the fourth story, “The Leader of the People?” Find three specific examples from the story to support your case.
  • Compare your life to that of the young boy, Jody. How is your life similar to Jody’s? How is your life different than Jody’s?

Overall evaluation of this book: The Red Pony is considered a classic, but today’s middle school kids won’t be compelled to read the book unless you suggest it to them. Even then, many of them will find it a tough slog, even though it is a very short book. Three Stars ★★★

Book Reviewed: Stoker, Bram. (1897.) Dracula. London: Constable and Co.

Summary: Jonathan Harker is a young English lawyer who goes to visit Count Dracula in Transylvania. The purpose of the visit is for Jonathan to complete the paperwork for a real estate transaction for the Count. At first, Count Dracula is friendly and hospitable. Over time, Jonathan sees a change in Count Dracula, as he becomes unfriendly and mysterious. Eventually, Jonathan realizes he is a prisoner. After three strange women attack him in the castle, Jonathan crawls down the castle walls and makes his escape. Jonathan eventually connects with his fiancée, Mia Murray. But they are too late to save Mia’s friend, Lucy Westenra, who is killed by Dracula and turned into a vampire. They recruit Professor Van Helsing to help them chase down Dracula. But first they must remove Lucy’s head and end her days as a blood sucking vampire. Will they be able to find and destroy all of Dracula’s coffins in time, thus killing the monster?

What you should know before middle school kids read this book: This novel has very little blood or gore in it. Consequently, it is very different from today’s horror novels, which seen to delight in revealing every grisly scene and providing all the details in graphic color. This book is very clean of graphic horror, even though it is one of the granddaddies of the horror genre.

Why middle school kids should read this book: Because this novel is famous and is considered by many to be the original source of today’s modern vampire mystique, it is worth reading to find out whether or not the original vampire legend has remained true to form in the modern world. Kids will be surprised at how many of the modern vampire myths clash with how Dracula is represented by Bram Stoker. As such, it is an excellent book for a compare and contrast project.

Discussion points with kids:

  • List all of Dracula’s personality and physical traits. How does he act? How does he talk? What is he like? How does he dress and move?
  • Compare the list you created above and now make a list of modern vampire personality and physical traits found in other books, the movies, and in local lore. How are the two lists the same? How are they different?
  • Explain what might account for the differences in the late 19th century version of Dracula and the 21st century version of Dracula.
  • Do you know anyone who sucks the life out of people like Dracula? (Not literally, but emotionally or mentally.) How do they accomplish this and what is their effect on other people?
  • Create a journal entry told from the point of view from one of the characters in the book. Choose any scene you think will make an interesting journal entry.

Overall evaluation of this book: This will be a slow-moving story for many kids. Much of the suspension and horror will be systematically built up, over time. Consequently, this is probably not a good choice for kids who dislike reading. However, this is a great choice for the horror-loving above average reader. Three Stars ★★★

Book Reviewed: Twain, Mark. (2012). The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. New York: Barnes and Noble Books.

Summary: Tom Sawyer is living with his Aunt Polly who is working hard to reform Tom and his wayward ways. A half-brother to Tom, named Sid, also lives with Aunt Polly. Tom quickly finds himself immersed in one adventure after another. He skips school and is told to whitewash a fence as punishment. But Tom has other ideas and soon talks other kids into doing his work. Shortly thereafter, Tom tricks the preacher and ends up winning a new bible. A young girl, Becky Thatcher, soon becomes Tom’s girlfriend and joins in on some of his adventures. Tom hooks up with Huckleberry Finn, another young boy in town, and they witness a murder in the cemetery. After showing up for their funeral, Tom and Huck search for treasure and stumble upon Injun’ Joe, the murderer. Tom testifies against Injun’ Joe, but the murderer escapes. Tom and Becky later become lost in a series of caves and, as luck has it, discover that Injun’ Joe is using the caves as a hideout. Will they be able to escape from Injun’ Joe?

What you should know before middle school kids read this book: This is considered a classic read for young kids. However, because the language used by Twain is somewhat archaic, some kids will struggle in comprehending this story. Consequently, this is not a good classic to give to a struggling middle school kid who has significantly below-grade level reading skills. The book also has cultural and historical references to the relationship which exists between the majority whites and minorities. This means that certain language usages and references may need to be “debriefed” with the reader.

Why middle school kids should read this book: Some of the scenes are very funny—especially for those who have droll or sarcastic senses of humor. As such, it has good examples of sophisticated humor and social commentary on people and places.

Discussion points with kids:

  • Explain the ending of the book. Look closely at the last chapter. Why does Twain say he ended the book in this manner?
  • Select a scene which was funny to you. Think of three reasons why this scene is funny.
  • Predict what the main character will be like 10 years from the way they were at the end of the book. What will they be like? What will they be doing?
  • Who was Mark Twain? Do some research and find out 3-5 interesting things about his life.
  • Injun’ Joe is one of the characters in this book. Today, would it be okay to call and identify someone as being named Injun’ Joe? Why or why not?

Overall evaluation of this book: Because of the tougher-to-understand language and sentence structure and slower pacing of this book, only kids with average to above average reading skills should be recommended this book. Three Stars ★★★

Book Reviewed: Wiesel, Ellie. (1982). Night. New York: Bantam Books.

Summary: Eliezer is a young Jewish teenager who lives in Sighet, Transylvania, at the outbreak of World War II. A teacher named Moshe the Beadle warns the inhabitants of the town of a murderous atrocity committed by the Gestapo. Unfortunately, few believe him. Later, Eliezer’s family is forcibly taken from Sighet and moved by railroad car to the Birkenau, a processing center for Auschwitz, one of the most notorious concentration camps of the War. Eliezer and his father are separated from his mother and sisters. He never sees them again. What follows next is a nightmare for Eliezer. He is stripped, shaved, disinfected, and assigned to a barracks. Murder is everywhere and compassion is benighted. One of the guards pries out a gold tooth from Eliezer’s mouth and he can’t do anything to stop the brutal act from happening. Resistance is futile. In the end, Eliezer barely survives and is rescued when the American army reaches the gates of the concentration camp.

What you should know before middle school kids read this book: This book could be very difficult for kids to read. Why? It’s because the contents are true and Ellie Wiesel does not spare the reader from some of the details. If you don’t want to protect middle school kids from this brutal era in history—and you shouldn’t—this is a well-known and necessary story for them to read. However, you will need to process the contents with them, as they may not understand the historical context. If you want them to read a book which is easier on the brutal details, then The Diary of Anne Frank could be what you are looking for.

Why middle school kids should read this book: Not everything kids reads should be about talking rabbits and rainbows and bluebirds and smiles and warm fuzzies. They also need to know about some of the darker moments of humanity, in order for them to gain some understanding about how cruel people can sometimes be and yet how hope can spring out of the darkest moments of despair.

Discussion points with kids:

  • How would you feel if you were suddenly forced to leave home and could never see your brothers and sisters again?
  • Where have other mass genocides occurred in the world and in what time periods? What do mass genocides have in common? What do mass genocides have which is not common to one another?
  • How could the guards have allowed such terrible things to happen? Why do you think they didn’t try to stop it?
  • Do you believe Ellie Wiesel, when he was living in the concentration camps, became desensitized to the violence and horror around him? Where is your evidence?
  • The author wrote this book about ten years after he had been liberated from the concentration camp. What do you think is the difference between the book he actually wrote and the book he might have written, had he written it immediately after he had been rescued?
  • Why do you think the events depicted in the story happened? Could they happen again? How?

Overall evaluation of this book: Although this book is primarily read by high school and college students, the readability and value of this story also belongs to older middle school kids. Five Stars ★★★★★

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