Kids in the Middle

The Case for Make Believe: 
Saving Play in Our Commercialized World
By Susan Linn
(The New Press, 2008)

Fires in the Middle School Bathroom: 
Advice for Teachers from Middle Schoolers
By Kathleen Cushman and Laura Rogers
(The New Press, 2008)

In Mozart’s Shadow
By Carolyn Meyer
(Harcourt, 2008)

Loving Will Shakespeare
By Carolyn Meyer
(Harcourt, 2006)

Kathleen Cushman and Laura Rogers book Fires in the Middle School Bathroom: Advice for Teachers from Middle Schoolers is primarily about listening to students and developing practices based on the needs and desires of students. It is full of direct quotes from urban middle school students and displays a deep respect for the students’ ideas and questions. It also lays out a program for students and teachers who want to improve their schools. The much-maligned middle schoolers show considerable sensitivity and understanding about their education and aspirations. They also show themselves to be astute critics of teachers and administrators.

What is special about this well written book is by using student voices as a starting point, it humanizes and celebrates life in the middle, countering all of the negative things about young adolescents in both popular media and the educational press.

Talking about listening, Carolyn Meyer’s In Mozart’s Shadow is a moving book, suitable for anywhere from middle school to high school. This intriguing book, which might be especially interesting for female students, is told from the perspective of Mozart’s older sister Nannerl, a gifted musician herself who suffered from being in the shadow of her younger, precocious genius brother. The book also begs to be connected to an introduction to Mozart’s music, and I can hardly imagine anyone reading the book without the sound of his music in your head.

In a similar way, another Carolyn Meyer book, Loving Will Shakespeare, is a good way to ease into the actual words of Shakespeare. The Bard’s wife, Anne Hathaway, narrates it.

Finally, I recommend Susan Linn’s The Case for Make Believe: Saving Play in Our Commercialized World. As renowned psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School professor, Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint said of the book: “Linn eloquently reminds us of the essential role of play and make believe in the [healthy growth] of children. She highlights the importance of the power of creative play in our commercialized society.”

There are dozens of delightful examples of children at play in the book as well as a passionate argument for celebrating and encouraging children’s imaginations.