Hi, I’m having a problem. My goal is to read 50 middle grade books by the end of the year, but I’m running into some issues. While my school has a number of children in third and fourth grade who can comfortably read The First Rule of Punk or Towers Falling, I find that, more often than not, a child comes into the library asking for books that fall into the M-P level range (these are Fountas and Pinnell levels for those not familiar). The First Rule of Punk is a T. Towers Falling is a W. Books in the M-P range usually look like Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things. I love this book! It has a lot to offer: A POC protagonist, super funny, and a quick read. Alvin Ho is the perfect reading level for many of our 3rd and 4th graders! However, Alvin’s in 2nd grade, and kids typically prefer to read about children older than they are (or at least the same age). Alvin even looks like a younger kid on the cover:
With some exceptions (Riding Freedom comes to mind), most of the M-P books don’t have the kind of content our 3rd and 4th graders are interested in. It’s been a bummer. At the public library and my last school, readers and educators were less interested in book leveling. Here, when a teacher asks for a book, the level can make or break their willingness to take the book on. While some children will comfortably read a Q or higher, many will not. Leveled reading doesn’t coincide with my personal beliefs about picking a good book, but I am dedicated to supporting the teachers in this matter.
I grabbed Mango & Bambang the Not-a-Pig on a whim one day. Eyeballing it, I figured it would be in the M-P range (I later found out it was an N. I’m getting good at this!). The cover was quirky enough that I hoped it would sort of mask its young-ness. After finishing it, I’m not sure I can get a 4th or an end-of-the-year 3rd grader to read it, but I’m glad I found this title anyway.
Mango finds an frightened animal cowering in the middle of a traffic jam. Annoyed commuters are calling it a “Mutant sewer pig!”, but Mango knows that it’s a tapir from Malaysia. Because the tapir can talk, she learns that his name is Bambang, who is on the run from a tiger (or so he says). Frightened for Bambang’s saftety, Mango takes him home and feeds him banana pancakes. As expected, they go on several adventures together, involving a public swimming pool, an eccentric neighbor, and a concert hall.
This story has cute, quirky, weirdness in droves. Though I’m not sure I can get a 3rd or 4th grader to take it home, I think it would make a really solid read aloud for our 2nd graders. It’s endearing and amusing, and the purple, white, and black illustrations are appealing. This little chapter book is peppered with real facts about tapirs, so the class and I could keep a running list of things we learn about the animal. I’m on the hunt for a good, informational video to pair with it.
I’m not only going to read middle grade titles in the M-P range, but I’m keeping my eyes open for titles on those levels that our kids won’t find too babyish. Any ideas? Ideally, I’m looking for short, accessible titles that aren’t part of a series. If you have any recommendations for third or fourth grade literature with POC protagonists, preferably published in the last three years, that’s high-interest/low level and/or on the short side, I’d love to know about it!