With your classroom abuzz with holiday excitement, you'll have an easier time holding students' attention if you incorporate books involving December celebrations and winter activities into the mix. This month's recommendations include beloved classics that can be read aloud or assigned nightly and discussed in class the next day. There are also some newer titles for students to enjoy on their own. Several books offer opportunities to discuss overarching themes of kindness, compassion, and giving of oneself.
Roles have been reversed in Mr. Meinert's 6th-grade music class. In a moment of frustration due to unruly students and his impending layoff, Mr. Meinert delegates responsibility for the holiday concert to the class. Hart Evans, a popular mischief-maker, has been chosen chorus director in an election that takes him completely by surprise. At first, he does an admirable job, leading classmates to create an event that's uniquely their own. However, factions soon emerge, and the concert seems doomed until a theme of peace and hope brings unity. An entertaining and, at times, touching story with a bittersweet ending, The Last Holiday Concert is a timely and topical holiday choice.
Middle school is an ideal time for students to graduate from abridged and cartoon versions about Ebenezer Scrooge to the original text by Charles Dickens. Between the mean-spirited, miserly Scrooge and chilling visits from Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come, your class may wonder whether you've mixed up Halloween with Christmas. But of course, a transformed Scrooge and Tiny Tim's "God bless us, every one!" deliver a resounding Christmas message. Consider arranging a video-viewing of Scrooge, a lively movie musical starring Albert Finney. For ideas on hosting a Dickensian tea during the holidays, check Classroom Activities: Holiday and Winter Fun (Grades 6–8).
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
Remember the first time you read this short story and discovered what irony really means? Be the first to introduce your students to this selfless tale about a young husband and wife, each of whom unwittingly sells his or her most prized possession to finance the perfect Christmas gift for the other.
Although there may not be enough action and male characters in this classic to hold everyone's riveted attention, a read-through of the first two chapters takes the class on a worthy trip to Christmastime in New England during the Civil War. (Encourage avid readers to continue on their own.) No doubt, many kids will relate to or empathize with the plight of the March sisters — their father is away at war, money is tight, and they are grumbling that "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents." Somehow the family manages to get by on love, laughter, and gifts of the heart and mind. A 1994 movie version starring Winona Ryder is also available.
Holiday Princess by Meg Cabot
Fast forward almost 150 years from Little Women to the fictional world of Princess Mia Thermopolis from the Princess Diaries series. In this fun-to-read primer, the princess, her friends, family, and royal stylists give advice on holiday etiquette and customs around the world (including Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Chinese New Year). Though it's best as an independent read for girls, turn the list of ways to say Happy New Year in 60 languages and the explanation of what Auld Lang Syne really means into an entertaining classroom activity. Fans of Princess Mia will enjoy this video interview of author Meg Cabot, whose Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls series is also popular with tween girls.