Catching Up on Middle Grades Dystopian Reading

So.  Back with the blogging.  My theme for this summer is to catch up on reading books that fall into the spectrum of fifth grade readers.  Not exactly pithy, huh?  I launched my summer reading project with the first three books in the Shadow Children trilogy by Margaret Peterson Haddix, entitled Among the Hidden, Among the Impostors, and Among the Betrayed respectively.  Having read the first three installments in another series by the same author (The Missing), I anticipated a well-paced plot line and solid character development.  Woohoo, I was right!  In Haddix’s Shadow Children world, catastrophic famine has led to an authoritarian government that allows each family no more than two children.  These stories follow the struggles of illegal third, or “shadow”, children who try to find ways to survive in a society that, at best, does not acknowledge them, and at worst, persecutes (and even executes) them.  The stories of different children are interwoven across the first three books, and Haddix does a great job of making the world frightening, but not too graphic for those upper el  readers who will pick up these books.  I read the first  of  The Missing series, Found, to my class last year and they liked it a lot, but not many felt that they could go on with the series independently.  I am eager to try reading Among the Hidden aloud this coming year, because I think this is a series that many of my fifth graders will simply devour, and I’ll feel like they’re reading something with a little substance.  It has the action and suspense that draws kid readers, and it provides an opportunity to think and make text-to-world connections.  Win-win.

And because I can’t get enough of reading about oppressive and corrupt government, I”m finally jumping on the Hunger Games bandwagon!  That’s right, I’ve read both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.  Wow.  Another series set in a future where the government is keeping the people down, and holds this annual “Thunderdome” style tournament that forces groups of teens to fight to the death.  Katniss, the story’s heroine, is resourceful, conflicted, suspicious, hopeful, terrified and courageous by turns, and her journey through not just the gladiatorial arena of the Hunger Games but deadly national politics is gripping.  Add in a bit of romance and you have a fantastic middle school read.  I thought it was a bit too bloody for my fifth grade bookshelf, but I plan to keep the trilogy in reserve for recommendation to the occasional child who is suited to it.  I actually had a fifth grader read the series last year and recommend it, which is what finally tipped the balance and got me to read it.

One of my considerations for reading this summer was that I would try to avoid completing whole series in an effort to broaden the spectrum of my kidlit reading and blogging, but here’s the truth…I’m going to pick up the rest of both The Hunger Games and The Shadow Children and read them all.  Like my students, once I find a great series, I just can’t put it down!

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