Earlier this year, I decided to develop another literature circle for my grade seven classroom. I currently teach two literature circles that focus on the themes of human rights and heroic journeys respectively. Inspired by Kelly Gallagher, I decided to condense these two units and create a third in order to promote more reading and dialogue among my students.
This unit will incorporate books that focus on identity, a key issue for middle school students. In contrast to the other two units, the books are steeped in familiar settings and situations. Characters struggle with questioning their identity, and often face some sort of bullying as a result. Many students in my classes can relate to these themes and topics, since grade seven students often question who they are and where exactly they fit in their family, school, community, and beyond. In focusing on this familiar topic, the unit should offer rich opportunity for dialogue.
Narrowing down the books has been challenging. The following is a list of books I intend to use, although I will drop certain titles depending on my group and their needs. Eight books in a literature circle is a few too many to effectively juggle. While a range of reading levels are represented, it tends to skew a bit easier than my other units, making this a good introductory literature circle.
- He Who Dreams, by Melanie Florence - This high interest, low vocabulary book proved to be very popular in my Heroic Journey literature circle unit, but it more strongly relates to the identity theme. The protagonist wants to explore his indigenous heritage by taking an indigenous dance class, despite facing discrimination.
- George, by Alex Gino - This book features a fourth grade transgender girl. Throughout the book, she becomes more comfortable with her own gender identity and starts to tell close family and friends her secret.
- All's Faire in Middle School, by Victoria Jamieson - This graphic novel focuses on a girl who enters middle school in grade six, after being homeschooled at a Renaissance Faire throughout her childhood. The protagonist tries to become part of a clique and risk changing her own values in the process.
- Amina's Voice, by Hena Khan - Amina is a Pakistani-American Muslim who is struggling with her cultural identity. She feels torn between some family members' traditional expectations and her peers at school. I expect many students in my class can relate to Amina's situation.
- Freak the Mighty, by Rodman Philbrick - In this book, Max sees himself as a big dummy, until he teams up with Kevin, a kid who is a genius and physically disabled. Together, they become so much more and the world learns to see them differently.
- Restart, by Gordon Korman - The main theme of this book asks if people are capable of change. The protagonist starts the book by losing his memory. After discovering that he used to be the biggest bully in school, he questions whether he can change and become somebody better.
- Posted, by John David Anderson - This book is a beautiful read. After cell phones are banned, students at Branton Middle School start to communicate via sticky note, a system that quickly gets out of hand. More significantly, the book focuses on the changing nature of friendship in middle school, as some characters grow and develop new identities.
- Lily and Dunkin, by Donna Gephart - Lily and Dunkin focuses on two main characters, Lily, a transgender girl, and Dunkin, a boy with bipolar disorder. Lily's story focuses on her journey to express her identity more freely and gain acceptance and understanding. Dunkin aims to build an identity for himself and find acceptance at his new school, while dealing with mental illness. In part, this text focuses on similar issues as George, although at a more mature level.
I am happy with my collection of identity themed books, and I'm curious how they will be received by grade seven students next year. Students sometimes surprise me with what books prove the most popular, so it will be interesting to see this unit in action. I hope that students will be engaged in these texts, as questions of identity are often not far from their minds at this age.