What better way to get your middle-schoolers off to a great reading start than with exciting realistic stories of teens facing down their fears or overcoming adversity? These carefully chosen books are great choices for literature circles, read-and-discuss-aloud sessions, and your classroom library. Three of the titles — Freak the Mighty, Hoot, and Homecoming — have been made into notable films. Host a DVD screening and let movie buffs and book critics in your classroom compare and contrast the versions.

 Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
After a plane crash strands 13-year-old Brian Robeson in the Canadian wilderness, he faces an onslaught of physical and emotional stresses. His only tools for survival are his wits and the hatchet his mother gave him. After 54 days alone, he emerges, having triumphed over natural obstacles by learning to fish, building a fire, hunting, warding off wild animals, and finding shelter. He also triumphs over internal struggles about his parents' impending divorce and the need for self-reliance. This thought-provoking, dramatic teen survivor story will get students thinking, "What if this happened to me?" Extend learning with the Hatchet Lesson Plan or an author study focused on imagery in the novels.


 Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
Max, a learning-disabled and mighty-sized teen, befriends Kevin, a brilliant, physically-disabled boy who is "freakishly" small, the summer before they enter seventh grade. Together, when Max hoists Kevin on his shoulders, they become "Freak the Mighty." With Max's strength and mobility, Kevin's cleverness, and inspiration from King Arthur's tales, the empowered duo battles bullies and rescues modern-day damsels in distress. Although the book ends with the death of a main character, Freak the Mighty has many humorous moments and the overarching theme is overcoming adversity. Consult the Discussion Guide to get your class talking.


 Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
Students can't help but be drawn into the book when they start reading this story about new kids in town fighting a big construction company, outsmarting police officials, and convincing neighbors to save local owls from destruction. A Newbury Award-winning book, Hoot has special appeal to budding environmentalists, relocated teens, and adolescents struggling to do the "right thing" even if it goes against the crowd. Teach the novel as unit with the Hoot Teaching Guide and Flashlight Readers activity.


 Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt
Dicey Tillerman, 13, is forced to make major decisions for herself and her three siblings when her mentally ill mother abandons them in a car in a shopping mall parking lot in the middle of Connecticut. Realizing that if she tells police about their plight they'll probably be separated, Dicey decides to make the trek down the highway to find the Bridgeport home of a great-aunt she's never met. After making the difficult and dangerous journey, she finds out that their great-aunt has passed away. So it's on the road again, this time to find a grandmother they didn't know they had. Steadfast determination helps Dicey protect her siblings and accomplish her goals. The story of the Tillermans continues in Dicey's Song and A Solitary Blue. For more insight on the author, check out this interview with Cynthia Voigt.