~ By Amanda Smith
Our final classroom take-over for the 2019/2020 school year comes from an amazing group of 7th and 8th graders. Back in the fall when I had asked them about their favorite books, none of us could have imagined the way this school year would end. Missing them as I work through their responses, I am reminded why I write for children. Our readers, these kids, draw hope and strength from our stories. They escape into fantasy worlds where they learn how to deal with reality. They gather compassion and empathy, grow strong and kind. And they become our heroes.
As I worked through the questionnaires, I found it interesting that the majority of 7th and 8th grade students focused their answers on characters and endings. So, as writers, we should make sure we listen and give them well rounded characters and satisfying endings. Let’s see what they have to say.
What kind of characters do you like?
Adrienne—I recently read the book WE ARE OKAY by Nina Lacour, where the main character is always there for her friends. I like this character because of the way she cares for and loves her friends. I would be friends with this character because she is sweet and loving, and matches my personality.
Avery – In MATCHED by Ally Condie, I like the main character, Cassie because she is relatable. I can connect to her and know what she feels when she doesn’t want to follow the rules.
Ella H. – In WINGS OF FIRE, Tui T. Sutherland creates a character named Sunny. Sunny is a small nightwing-sandwing hybrid and she is always happy and optimistic. I would be friends with her because she is basically the dragon version of me.
Ella K. – I look for depth in characters’ feelings, details of characters’ thoughts and an elaborate display of characters’ motives for the decisions they make. I look for these things, because it makes me feel connected to the main character and the people around them.
Claire – Glory is my favorite character form WINGS OF FIRE. She is a dragon who can change her color and spit venom with her fangs. She is not aggressive, but will fight when it is necessary. I think if she was real, we would be good friends.
Sebz -- Ben Ripley from SPY SCHOOL is a character I like, because he is sarcastic.
Marley – The character in JELLY BEAN SUMMER by Joyce Maghin is a young girl like me and I liked her so much, because her inner thoughts were very funny. I would be friends with her because she is kind and clever.
Elyssa – I would be friends with Frances from RADIO SILENCE by Alice Oseman, because she is relatable and headstrong.
Carolyn – I liked Raina in GUTS (Raina Telgemeier), because she is a good friend and sounds like she would be easy to get along with.
Caden – I think I would be friends with Oliver in THE UNEXPECTED LIFE OF OLIVER CRAMWELL PITTS (Avi) because he is nice and very kind.
Inspiring or brave characters:
Julia and Hannah B —I loved the character, Sara from WHITE BIRD. What I liked about her is that she almost gave her life just to save Julien, and her loyalty. She has courage, honesty and a kind heart.
Jonathan – I liked how Julien from WHITE BIRD (R.J. Palacio) overcame hardship and hid his friend. I like characters that are positive friends.
Georgia – In the book I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU by Ally Carter the main character is Cammie Morgan. She has a lot going on, but she seems to stay cool and she has two best friends. They stick together through everything.
Jake – Alex Rider us a teenage spy and goes on lots of intense missions. I like this character because there is always a surprise at the last second.
Damian – I like Harry Potter, because he is brave and adventurous, but I wouldn’t want to be his friend, because he can be selfish.
Makenna – Katniss Everdeen is from THE HUNGER GAMES. She doesn’t give up and will do anything to keep her family and friends safe.
Hayden – I liked Link from OCARINA OF TIME by Akira Himekawa, because he is fun-loving and mischievous, as well as courageous. I would like to be friends with him to have fun adventures.
Megan – Recently, I read A TALE OF MAGIC by Chris Colfer. The main character, Brystal Evergreen was a strong role model, because when her teacher was taken, Brystal gathered her friends and found her.
Kelsey – Auggie from WONDER (R.J. Palacio) is my favorite character, because he stayed positive and strong. I would want to be friends with him, because he would always be there for me.
Daniel – Cup from THE HOUSE OF ROBOTS by James Patterson is always loyal.
Brianna – I recently read ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY by Chris Grabenstein. I liked Kyle, because of his sense of adventure and team leadership.
Characters that provide deeper insight and personal growth:
Chloe – The book I’m currently reading, FORGET ME NOT by Ellie Terry, is about a girl with Tourette’s. I like reading books form the point of view of people with disabilities. I like these books, because it gives me insight.
Hannah – I like the characters Anya and Siobhan in ANYA’S GHOST by Vera Brosgol. I like how Anya grew to like herself for who she is and how Siobhan didn’t care what anyone thought of her.
Scarlett – In the book THE CUPCAKE QUEEN by Heather Hepler, I like the character Tally, because she accepts who she is. She isn’t afraid of anything, and she shows other people to stand up for themselves not matter what body-type they are.
Kaylin – In the book WAITING FOR SARAH by Bruce McBay, Mike has a very interesting personality. He was different from a standard character. He is angry at the world for what happened to him and blames everyone else.
Camdyn – Lizzie from LIZZIE FLYING SOLO by Nanci Turner Steveson is positive and never gives up. Maybe I would be friends with her because I sometimes need positivity.
Margaret – I liked Savannah in HIDEOUT (Gordon Korman), because she never gave up on Luthor. I would love to be friends with her, because she would push me to be better.
What kinds of endings do you like?
Just as with the 6th graders we hosted in March, these students appreciate a good cliff-hanger - provided a sequel is close at hand. But don’t leave them hanging with unresolved threads. Like Ella B. said, “You can’t just end a book with a major cliff hanger and never write another book explaining what happens.” What I have noticed, though, is that these discerning readers expect an ending to deliver more than just a neatly wrapped up story.
Take a look:
Rosemary – The ending of THE KINDOM (Jess Rothenberg) was great. It did not end with a “happily ever after.” It ended with a nice resolution to the plot, but left the rest to the readers’ imagination.
Erin – I liked the ending of THE OUTSIDERS (S.E. Hinton). The ending is similar to the beginning.
Grace – I liked the ending of WHITE BIRD, because it had a good message and made me think of what I can do to change the world.
Corbin – REBOUND by Kwame Alexander ended in a way that linked up well with the first book THE CROSSOVER.
Emelyn – The ending of AN INQUISITOR’S TALE (Adam Gidwitz) revealed identities of mysterious characters and tied the whole book together really well.
CJ – I liked the ending of TYRANT’S TOMB (Rick Riordan), because it ended with a battle. I don’t like books that end with “happily ever after,” because it makes it feel as if nothing had changed since the beginning.
Hannah – TO CATCH A KILLER by Sheryl Scarborough ended so nicely and all the pieces fit together. It made me feel like life could be like that someday.
Seventh and Eighth graders fall in that obscure place in the market – that crossover spot between upper middle grade and young YA, which can make finding the right book tricky. I doubt that they care much about marketing labels. However, they are clear about what they want: Adventure, escape, and hope. A call to action. Glimpses of who they are. Examples of who they aspire to be. And inspiration to be brave and be the very best version of themselves.
Other books and authors mentioned by these students:
AMULET SERIES by Kazu Kibushi
BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys
BLINDSIDED by Priscilla Cummings
BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson
DEEP BLUE by Jennifer Donnelly
GEMINI SUMMER by Iain Lawrence
GIRL STOLEN by April Henry
GREYSON GRAY by B.C. Tweedt
GYM CANDY by Carl Denker
I WILL ALWAYS WRITE BACK by Martin Ganda
LAND OF STORIES by Chris Colfer
LOST IN THE SUN by Lisa Graff
MISSING by Margaret Peterson
PART OF YOUR WORLD by Elizabeth Braswell
PERCY JACKSON by Rick Riordan
SO B IT by Sarah Weeks
STORMRISE by Jillian Boehme
THE ABILITY by M.M. Vaughen
THE BILLIONAIRE’S CURSE by Richard Newsome
THE COMPOUND by S.A Boden
THE EXTRA YARD by Mike Lupica
THE FOURTH STALL by Chris Rylander
THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins
THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY by Trenton Lee Steward
THE PERFECT SCORE by Bob Buyea
THE RED STAR OVER CHINA by Edgar Snow
THE SECRET KEEPER by Kate Messner
THE THIEF OF ALWAYS by Clive Barker
THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin
WEDNESDAY WARS by Gary Schmidt
WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS by Wilson Rawls
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