What do Middle Schoolers Want to Read? An Interview with a School Counselor

Barbara Truluck is a middle school counselor and recipient of 2018 Middle School Counselor of the Year for Cobb County schools (the second largest school district in the state of Georgia). I asked her about the reading habits of today’s middle school students.

Debbie D’Aurelio: How important is it for children to read books with characters that are similar to them in race, socioeconomic, religious backgrounds, etc? 

Barbara Truluck: As a middle school counselor, I know the importance of students
developing a multicultural perspective in order to function in our diverse world. libraryHowever, kids first need to understand who they are and develop their own self-identity which is a developmental skill.  As children grow and change through adolescence they are continually learning their own personality, gaining knowledge of their own skills and abilities, and developing an awareness of their own physical attributes. Understanding who they are, their ethnic background, their values, and beliefs must be developed before they can look at their relationship to the world and more importantly create the person they want to be.

In the developmental theory of Erickson’s Identity vs. Role Confusion, adolescents must struggle to discover and find his or her own identity, develop a sense of right and wrong, and find where they “fit in” socially.  A strong sense of personal identity helps kids build their self-esteem, feel part of their culture and family, and build confidence in an overall sense of belonging. This is why, in my experience, both in the classroom and in school counseling, I see students gravitate to reading books about characters that are similar to themselves in race, socioeconomic, interests, and religious backgrounds. While children are in the developmental stage of self-identity, relating to characters like themselves help builds character and strengthen their own positive identity.

DD: Many books explore some difficult topics like poverty and racism, etc. Do you find kids pick up these books on their own? Do you recommend them to kids who are experiencing similar problems? 

The adolescents I work with every day as a school counselor are for the most part interested in reading fantasy and fiction. They are not at the developmental age yet where books purely on social justice issues are their motivation to read.  However, children have a keen awareness of fairness and differences from themselves. Current research suggests that when children are exposed to prejudice and racism they can unlearn any bias when exposed to diversity in a positive way. In today’s society, there are disagreements regarding what constitutes justice and which values are considered right and wrong. Today’s educators and children’s book authors need to be sensitive not to usurp parents prerogative and perspectives in shaping their children’s ethical beliefs, values, and morals.

DD: What kind of books are kids in middle-school drawn to these days?

BT: The tween years are a time of turbulent change and character building. Let’s face it, in today’s fast-paced technology world, the majority of kid’s I see prefer social media outlets and the constant cell phone usage over reading. We have seen a drastic drop in reading Lexile scores with this generation. As educators, we are seeing that many students are so addicted to social media they cannot part with their cell phone long enough to pick-up a book to read. Middle schoolers are still moving through Piaget’s stages of cognitive development and become extremely egocentric and care more about the opinions of their peers than anyone else. Social media feeds that need.

When adolescents do read, they most often choose to read literature that mirrors themselves and their peers. They chose books created from the imagination like mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, and uplifting stories that inspire them to dream. That is why kids like to escape when they read a story. Children like to envision themselves in-bedded in the story. During this time of self-centeredness, middle school students want to be inspired and yearn for positive story themes.

There is so much negativism in the world today when kids sit down to read a book they want to be inspired and uplifted. Kids love books where good wins over evil and the main characters resolve their issues in a positive manner.

Barbara Truluck, M.Ed., NCC, NCSCBarbara Truluck, M.Ed., NCC, NCSC; 2018 Cobb County Middle School Counselor of the Year; ASCA School Counselor Leadership Specialist. Barbara taught middle school for twelve years before becoming a school counselor.

Age Old Debate—Which is Better, the Book or the Movie?

I have to be honest, I’m a little afraid to see the movie, Wonder. Like so many people, I adored the book. It’s still one of my all-time favorites. But, I’m afraid I will sit in the theatre and be completely annoyed by the theatrical interpretation and not be able to enjoy the movie.

Most people I’ve talked to are excited to see it, but my bookish/writer friends are not. We think the casting is questionable and based on the previews, Auggie’s surgeries were far more successful at improving his facial abnormalities than in the book. The reactions to Auggie might not be as authentic.

At the same time, I’m happy the book was made into a movie so more people can benefit from seeing this heartfelt story. I’m still not sure if I will see the movie or not. I think I’ll wait for the reviews. If you’ve already seen it, tell me what you think. At least we don’t have to worry about spoilers.

What Do Children Want to Read? Humor

It’s no surprise the number one feature kids look for in books is humor. When picking out a book for themselves, they want a book that makes them laugh!

In the fall of 2014, Scholastic surveyed a sample of children ages 6-17 along with a group of parents. They asked them about their reading habits. The full survey can be found at  2014 Scholastic Study.

There are many interesting findings in the study. One question asked children, “What do you look for when reading a book?” (please select all that apply.) Here are the results:

Make me laugh – 70%

Let me use my imagination- 54%

Tell a made up story – 48%

Have characters I wish to be like because they are smart, strong and brave – 43%

Teach me something new – 43%

Have a mystery or problem to solve – 41%

Tell a true story (nonfiction)- 31%

Are a little scary – 30%

Let me forget about real life for a while – 26%

Are about things I experience in my life – 25%

Have characters that look like me – 17%

Have characters that are in love – 17%








Due to the collective stress we adults are feeling due to the tumultuous political environment, let’s not lose our sense of humor. While we want to educate kids so they make good decisions, let’s not forget to make them laugh along the way.

Turning Yucky Peas into Picture Book Magic. An Interview with Danny Schnitzlein.

I recently spoke with talented children’s author, Danny Schnitzlein, about his successful picture book as well as the craft of writing in verse.

What inspired you to write The Monster Who Ate My Peas?753118

My older siblings hated peas, so I also groaned and threw a fit when my mom served them. I’m not sure if I really hated them, or if I was just following my brother and sister’s lead. But over time, I truly did believe I hated them. My parents wouldn’t let us leave the table until we’d cleaned our plates, so many nights at 8:30 or 9:00 I’d be
sitting there staring at my plate through tears and wishing the peas would disappear. Fast forward, two decades later, someone brought a green soup to a party I attended. I had two bowls of it. Then I discovered it was split pea soup. After that, I really had to re-think my hatred of peas and examine the cause of my fear. Since the book came out, other pea haters (usually adults) come up to me and confess all the devious ways they would get rid of peas when they were kids. So I guess I’ve become a sort of pope of pea confession. You are forgiven! Anyhow, I have examined my fear and I don’t like canned peas. I like them okay if they are fresh or frozen, or especially in Indian food. But not canned. I’m sure that’s way more than you wanted to know.

During school visits, what are some of the more interesting/funny responses you’ve received from students?

I always talk about the importance of re-writing, and how that’s where the magic happens. All the good bits of my stories have happened in the re-writing stage.
When it came time for questions at one school, a boy raised his hand and asked, “Why don’t you just write it right the first time?” If only I could.

I understand a theatrical play was developed from your story. Can you tell us a little about this?

ArtsPower is a really great organization based in New Jersey. They adapt children’s books into plays and perform them at small theaters and schools across the U.S..
I was honored when they approached me about adapting The Monster Who Ate My Peas. Many years ago, I wrote a musical play based on the book and it was performed a few places, but ArtsPower did a much better job than I did. Greg Gunning’s script is fantastic. The acting, staging, and choreography are so much fun. When I saw the play performed in North Carolina, it was very surreal, especially since they named the main character “Danny.” (In the book, the boy is never named.) The play has toured the country several times and it will finally come to my home city next May. I’m very excited!

Your story is written in verse. How difficult was this to accomplish?

My mom read lots of rhyming poems to me when I was young, Also, I was raised on Dr. Seuss books, and I’ve always loved the music of his language. Seuss made writing verse look so easy that people are still trying to copy him many years later. I guess I’m one of those copycats. I’m also a musician and I think that helps when writing verse, because it’s all about the rhythm of the meter, the music of the words. Unfortunately, I think many big publishers have developed a snobby attitude toward picture books written in verse. They don’t want to see those manuscripts. It’s probably because they read so many poorly written manuscripts in verse. The snobby attitude toward books in verse is a trend, but I hope it doesn’t continue. Kids like verse. Adults like reading verse to kids. Verse gives a book a lot of re-play value. We like to hear our favorite songs over and over, and it’s the same with books written in verse, because they are so much like music. Writing in verse is not so hard for me, but it takes a lot longer than writing in prose. The most difficult part about writing in verse, is avoiding the urge to let the verse steer the story. What I mean by this is that you know the first line, but then you have to think up a rhyme for the end of the second line. It’s very easy to just think of a word that rhymes and then use it, and then let the rhyming word tell you where the story is going. But you can’t do that. You have to be in charge of the story. You can’t let the verse make story decisions for you. It’s best to know your story before you begin. Otherwise the story comes out looking very amateur. I only know this from years of experience doing it the wrong way! 🙂

For more information about Danny, visit his website at www.dannyschnitzlein.com.


Electronic readers versus paper books: Should we fight the future?

Dr. Roy Benaroch offers some thoughts and advice about reading on e-readers.

Anne with an E

The Pediatric Insider

The Pediatric Insider

© 2016 Roy Benaroch, MD

Holly wrote in:

What is your opinion on e-readers vs paper books for kids? My kids have begun to associate reading with something that ‘has to be done for school’ instead of something to be enjoyed, and I’m wondering if letting them read on their tablets would spark new interest. It seems that schools are turning more and more to electronic devices for teaching, so how do e-readers factor into the ‘screen time’ equation? Can reading on a tablet at a young age affect eyesight?

It’s been a long time since reading technology has changed as much as it’s changing now. 2000 years ago moms were admonishing their children to read their baked clay instead of that new-fangled papyrus. Around 1440 Ms. Guterberg gave her one of the first mechanically printed books while her neighbors edged away. 200 years later, Ms. Lincoln…

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Do Books Need Taglines?

As consumers, we’re used to seeing “taglines” for commercials and movies, but do books need pitch lines too? In today’s competitive environment, anything that grabs a reader and gets them to look deeper into your book is worth having. Look at some of these great movie taglines.

Alien – “In space, no one can hear you scream.”1320661
Erin Brockovich – “She brought a small town to it’s feet and a big corporation to it’s knees.”

Finding Nemo – “There are 3.7 trillion fish in the ocean. They’re looking for one.”

Apollo 13 – “Houston . . . we have a problem.”

Armageddon – “Earth. It was fun while it lasted.”

The Social Network – “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.”

Platoon – “The first casualty of war is innocence.”

Shawshank Redemption – “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.”

Get Shorty – “The mob is tough, but it’s nothing like show business.”

These taglines add intrigue to the story and makes you want to read more. As writers we can deliver on the tagline when, most of the time, the publisher delivers on the title. It not only grabs an editor, it grabs the reader. We need to embrace the idea of tagline/pitch lines for children’s books. It’s a competitive world of scrolling through options and the pitch could set us apart.

Little Known Facts About the Penny?

  1. On the tails side of the penny you’ll find the Latin phrase, E. Pluribus Unum, which means “one out of many”. The Latin phrase was first introduced as part of the Great Seal on August 20th, 1776 just weeks after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The phrase was used rather inconsistently on coins and emblems, so in 1873 a law passed that required E. Pluribus Unum to appear on all coins when new designs went into effect, and today the motto appears on all U.S. coins.
  1. The first Lincoln Penny was minted in 1909 and it was President Theodore Roosevelt’s idea to honor President Lincoln on the penny. This was the first time a historical figure was pictured on a coin in the United States.
  1. The wheat penny was minted from 1909 to 1958. The design was meant to honor America’s production of grain and was created by sculptor, Victor David Brenner. That’s why some of the oldest pennies have the initials VDB on the bottom. If you have one of these, hold onto it, they are worth more than a penny.
  1. Canada stopped making their penny in 2012. The Royal Canadian Mint is in the process of collecting pennies and melting them down for their metal content. Australia and New Zealand have also eliminated their one-cent coin.
  2. Can the U.S. penny be discontinued? Two bills to “kill” the penny have already been submitted and defeated in congress. Americans are rather fond of the penny but there is growing support in Washington to reduce expenses. The cost to produce a penny varies depending on the price of copper and zinc, but it will never again be less than one cent.
  1. The United States Mint in Philadelphia was the first facility to make official U.S. coins. In 2014, they produced 3,991,000,000 pennies. See www.usmint.gov for more fun facts.
  1. George and Martha Washington donated several pieces of their personal silver to make the first official coins. Can you imagine what these would be worth today?

5 Ways to Squeeze Writing into Your Life

Writer’s Rumpus posted a few important reminders about making writing a priority. Happy 2016 and may your writing be abundant.


My life is a tornado.  Sometimes kids, house stuff, homeschooling, church work, therapist duties, chickens, and everything else pull me into a frenzy of activity that I fear I will never escape.  So, how to write?

reminders1. Take advantage of the quiet moments:  There’s always an eye in the storm. The baby is quiet.  The phone isn’t ringing.  The older kids are playing cooperatively. You are doing the dishes and you are alone!  Take this time to write in your mind.  I actually thought of this post today in the car on the way home from a dr.’s appointment.  I got home, typed this up, and voila!

2.Carry a notebook or smart phone with you at all times: Strong winds will carry your ideas away, so write them down immediately! Even if you can’t write hundreds of words a day, writing even one word a day can be inspiring (see…

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Do you have Friggatriskaidekaphobia? Fear of Friday the 13th.

The fear of friday the 13th is very real to a lot of people and it’s called Friggatriskaidekaphobia. The word itself is frightening, but it’s been around for over 100 years and the fear of the number thirteen has been around even longer.

In the early 1800’s, The Thirteenth Club was formed to disprove the fear of the number 13-club-300x276_5_0thirteen along with many other superstitions such as walking under ladders and spilling salt. The club members dared to sit thirteen guests at a table and meet on the 13th of every month. Believe it or not, all members survived.

Even though these superstitions have been disproved time and time again  some people still hold on to those beliefs—just in case. According Stress Management Center in Asheville, NC, approximately 17-21 million Americans suffer from the fear of one particular day. Their fear causes them to avoid their daily activities on Friday the 13th.

Where will you be on this Friday the 13th?