Article, Book Resources

Bookshelf Bests: Mixing Social Sagas With Politics (Grades 6–8)

Main Characters Who Raise Awareness, Take a Stand

By Margie Markarian
  • Grades: 6–8

With politics, societal problems, and the economy making headlines, November is an ideal time to plunge into books covering similar issues. These fiction titles feature strong-minded individuals who campaign for candidates, question the system, and/or fight for worthy causes. 

Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer
Hope, a 16-year-old high school student and part-time waitress extraordinaire, has been transplanted again. This time she's moving from Brooklyn, New York, to Mulhoney, Wisconsin, where her aunt takes over the grill at the Welcome Stairways Diner. The owner, G.T. Stoop, is undergoing treatments for leukemia, but has decided to run for mayor against a corrupt incumbent. It doesn't take long for Hope and the colorful cast of characters who frequent the diner to pitch in and help with the campaign. Amidst all the waitressing, politicking, picketing, and ballot recounting, there's time for comfort food and self-discovery — Hope settles in. Use these discussion questions for literature circles or as writing prompts. A lesson plan and extension activity are also available for this Newbery Honor book.

Nothing but the Truth by Avi
Philip Malloy's decision to hum "The Star-Spangled Banner" instead of being respectfully silent when it's played during homeroom earns him a suspension and national media attention. The 9th grader's account of what happened is different from that of the teacher who did him in, Miss Narwin, now facing dismissal. The only person who finds out "nothing but the truth" is the reader. That's because the story is told documentary-style through newspaper articles, school memos, diary excerpts, letters, and transcripts of taped conversations. The book's themes and characters are catalysts for thought-provoking discussions about freedom of expression, instant fame, and how small misunderstandings can grow uncontrollably. For more insight on the writer of this Newbery Honor book, check Scholastic's Avi Author Study.

The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill
This satirical tale of little guys versus big guys takes place in New York City. The little guys are the pushcart vendors; the big guys are the trucking companies. The trucks are getting bigger and causing more congestion. Fearing they'll have to downsize, the truckers blame the pushcart vendors for the traffic jams, stage a few "accidents," and distribute propaganda. They even get the pro-business mayor, who is running for reelection, on their side. The peddlers have plans of their own, including protests, peace marches, and shooting tacks into truck tires with peashooters. Numerous opportunities to relate themes, characters, and situations to past and present wars (especially the American Revolution), corporate greed, big-city politics, and grassroots activism.

The Gospel According to Larry by Janet Tashjian
Brilliant and 17, Josh Swenson is on a mission to make the world a better place. He creates an alter ego named Larry and sets up a Web site (yes, there really is a website!), where he preaches against consumerism and advocates for a back-to-nature lifestyle. "Larry's" Web site becomes a big hit. Soon, there's a Larryfest and U2 endorsements, and the whole world is trying to uncover Larry's true identify. As soon as his identity is revealed, Josh is forced on the celebrity circuit, which he despises. So much so that he stages his own death and surreptitiously delivers his "story" to the author, Janet Tashjian, who cleverly inserts herself into the storyline. An engrossing read for adolescents growing up with IM, blogs, Facebook, green awareness, and celebrity journalism. Larry lives on in Vote for Larry and Larry and the Meaning of Life.

  • Subjects:
    Social Studies, Literature, Literature Appreciation, Economics, Politics, New Teacher Resources, Teacher Tips and Strategies
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