book award award for two outstanding 8th grade grads?
May 4, 2006 6:47 AM   Subscribe

What book should I get as an award for two outstanding 8th grade grads? I'm their faculty advisor. They've each won an end-of-year award, and I'm tasked with finding them a suitable book to mark the occasion. I want to find something more than a dry dictionary or reference book, and I'd love to inspire them to continue their great work without being too sappy or preachy. My range is $15 - $20. Any suggestions?
posted by tomadelic to Education (51 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe a couple of novels for each of them? Ones that will help them make the transition to high school and puberty.

Or, if one is really into photography (or writing, or travel, whatever) a book about that.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:51 AM on May 4, 2006

Far from sappy and preachy, but maybe too far the other direction: What about the nice hardcover copy of Hitchhiker's Guide?

Before you laugh and dismiss - I suggest this because it's all about exploration and unanswered questions. It's readable (but maybe challenging? It's been a while) for an 8th grader, and its fun.
posted by whatzit at 6:58 AM on May 4, 2006

I suppose it wouldn't be as appreciated by the parents or faculty (Perhaps shunned? Although I don't know why, considering that art is education), but I bet the students would rather have some movie gift certificates (perhaps to your local independent movie theatre -- although that might not work well for kids in grade 8, due to ratings). You'd be a lot cooler to the students... who are your employers, after all. :-)
posted by shepd at 6:59 AM on May 4, 2006

Puberty, misanthropicsarah? These are eighth graders; they probably reached that point two years ago. Back on topic, what did they win the awards for, specifically?
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:00 AM on May 4, 2006

Is this for excellence overall, or in a particular subject?

As a general gift, I'd recommend a nice short story collection; things they'll love if they read them on their own but might not enjoy as much if they get them assigned in school. I got a set of the collected stories of Oscar Wilde as an award in 8th grade and loved it. Saki, Poe, Thurber, or O'Henry might be good choices, or Asimov if they're into sf.
posted by nonane at 7:04 AM on May 4, 2006

Letters to a Young Poet is always a safe choice.
posted by j.s.f. at 7:11 AM on May 4, 2006

If either of them are female, they may appreciate Girlosophy's RealGirl Stories. They're basically first-person profiles and photos of interesting young women from all over the world, and their thoughts on life.

Something along those lines - interesting youth biographies/profiles - might be good. It'll definitely fit the "inspirational" bit.
posted by divabat at 7:16 AM on May 4, 2006

The Catcher in the Rye. They will totally relate.

Jonathan Livingston: Seagull. It is inspirational (to say the least).

Old Possum's Book of Cats.
T.S. Elliot was a genius pure and simple.

Frankly I would go with Catcher or the Book of Cats, greatness inspires greatness without having to be inspirational.

(As a snarky aside, students do not employ teachers. The government (or some other third party) employs teachers to educate students. The attitude that students are employers is corrosive to morale and a hindrance to learning.)
posted by oddman at 7:21 AM on May 4, 2006

Along the lines of what divabat said, you could look for suitably inspiring biographies or autobiographies, or you could by them copies of my sister's book, Becoming Myself, which consists of short essays by about 50 successful women about how they became who they were and became successful while staying true to themselves. Your students will probably know who many of the women are (e.g. J.K. Rowling).
posted by alms at 7:28 AM on May 4, 2006

For bright students, I'd recommend "The Fountainhead" -- it will demonstrate to them that ideas and principles are important, and that thinking is their most valuable asset.
posted by davidmsc at 7:30 AM on May 4, 2006

Oh, the Things I Know! A Guide to Success, or, Failing That, Happiness by Al Franken. I give it to everyone who graduates from anything. Hilarious, but actually contains good advice.
posted by ND¢ at 7:33 AM on May 4, 2006

An anthology of classic and contemporary short stories by various authors. Chances are, they'll connect with at least one of the stories and want to explore that author's works further.
posted by amro at 7:34 AM on May 4, 2006

Does it have to be a book? Could you give them each a nicely bound blank journal?
posted by jrossi4r at 7:36 AM on May 4, 2006

The Illustrated edition of A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson.

The original edition inspired me to read about three dozen other books.
posted by bondcliff at 7:44 AM on May 4, 2006

How about The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2005? It'll give them something their high school reading won't.
posted by nadawi at 7:49 AM on May 4, 2006

Ben Franklin's autobiography.

davidmsc: Fountainhead? Puh-lease. Teach them the value of rape? That's just plain sick. You were joking, right?
posted by Goofyy at 7:58 AM on May 4, 2006

Madeline L'engle Crosswicks journals are fabulous. Philsophical, thoughtful, and yet written in a way that is accessible to readers of any age. Inspring to all aspiring writers in that she also teaches what it is to write a thoughtful, loving journal, all by example.
posted by zia at 8:00 AM on May 4, 2006

Is either of them artsy? How about a book on origami, or (more practical) book binding and box making? Paper making?
posted by Marit at 8:06 AM on May 4, 2006

Oh The Places You'll Go, by Dr. Seuss?

A graduation classic.
posted by fuzzbean at 8:28 AM on May 4, 2006

How 'bout a combined set of The Fountainhead and Harriet Martineau's Illustrations of Political Economy? That oughta confuse 'em.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:41 AM on May 4, 2006

For bright students, I'd recommend "The Fountainhead" -- it will demonstrate to them that ideas and principles are important, and that thinking is their most valuable asset.
posted by davidmsc at 7:30 AM PST on May 4

You could instill the same lesson by saying to them, "ideas and principles are important, and thinking is your most valuable asset." It would save them from reading 8,000 pages of horrific, clunky prose.

Anastasiav, Lies My Teacher Told Me is a nice innoculation for high school. Good choice.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:53 AM on May 4, 2006

Years ago, my father's then-girlfriend got me Oh, The Places You'll Go when I graduated high school. I also received a compass. In hindsight, I think they were thoughtful gifts, but at the time I didn't appreciate them. I think I was just uncomfortable in my own skin at that stage in life.

Not to be to snarky, but there are loads of topics that I wish I had been introduced to in school. How to cook. How to dance. How to invest. How to use credit and balance a checkbook. How to have style. How to be effective in making decisions. How to choose a college.

Maybe a book teaching how to think successfully would be more appreciated, in the long run, than a novel. However, a fun book would certainly be more appreciated when they receive it!

You might make some quiet inquiries into which subjects are known to be their favorites, and cater to those.

Good luck!

How to Win Friends and Influence People
Castle of Wisdom
Life's Little Instruction Book (I, II, III)
The Richest Man in Babylon
The Lord of the Rings
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
posted by Jonasio at 9:00 AM on May 4, 2006

Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think?: they're a good mix of funny, interesting, and instructive. Though there is the part about sketching in a strip club that their parent may not appreciate.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:12 AM on May 4, 2006

I third Lies My Teacher Told Me. It's a great book and it will instill a healthy sense of skepticism in the maturing student.
posted by cloeburner at 9:42 AM on May 4, 2006

Kind of surprised no one suggested this:
A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn.
I wish I'd read when I was younger....
posted by TheLibrarian at 10:01 AM on May 4, 2006

I second letters to a young poet, if they're into poetry or literature.

also, and this works for anyone who might enjoy reading in the first place, any of vonnegut's more famous books, like Slaughterhouse 5, Cat's Cradle, or Breakfast of Champions.
posted by shmegegge at 10:10 AM on May 4, 2006

How about Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid ? I also think the Feynman books are a good suggestion. For someone who is less scientifically oriented, maybe Nabokov's Speak, Memory ?

With respect to shmegegge, I think Breakfast of Champions probably contains a bit too much discussion of private parts to be given as a school prize.
posted by teleskiving at 10:46 AM on May 4, 2006

I second A People's History of the United States, maybe along with Das Kapital.

A really nice edition of Catcher in the Rye couldn't go wrong, either.

Frankly, I think the classic young adult novel of this generation is The Golden Compass. Non-nerdy fantasy that's still deeply intelligent.
posted by maxreax at 10:56 AM on May 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

To Kill a Mockingbird.
posted by sixpack at 10:58 AM on May 4, 2006

Am I the only person on the planet who thinks Catcher in the Rye is mediocre at best? I remember reading it at around 15 or so and thinking "surely this is a joke." (And the less said about the wretchedness that is The Fountainhead, the better.)

At that age (maybe a little older), the two books that had the most profound impact on me were Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and The Basketball Diaries.
posted by scody at 11:06 AM on May 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

whoops, hit "post" too soon. To Kill a Mockingbird is also a great idea.
posted by scody at 11:08 AM on May 4, 2006

What about an atlas? A friend of mine once found a pocket atlas with a nice cover that wasn't too expensive. It's something that they'll use over and over again and also something that will inspire them to think beyond their boundaries without being preachy.

I think Bill Bryson's a short history of nearly everything is also a good idea. And I love Hofstadter but if I had tried to read Godel, Escher, Bach when I was 12 I may have been turned off of math forever.
posted by kechi at 12:42 PM on May 4, 2006

Considering how many of these suggestions are making me think "oh, barf" (sorry guys), I wonder if you might not be best off with a dictionary. I got one with an award in 8th grade and I used it all through college. I liked having a dictionary of my very own that I "earned" and it seemed to me at the time like a very grown-up gift. Other than that, an anthology seems safest.
posted by nevers at 1:46 PM on May 4, 2006

At the end of 2nd grade, I received a book for a similar purpose, it was Lois Lowry's Number the Stars. It's an age-appropriate narrative of a Danish girl's experience protecting her Jewish friends during Nazi occupation. I reread it many times as it was the first book that really told me something other than facts or pleasantries. Hence, its impact has stayed with me from that young age and has inspired me beyond college and then some. Obviously this book is too young for your purposes, but I'd say something that moves minds and hearts in such a way is much more what you're looking for than is a reference or history book.

When I was in 8th grade I was frightened and fascinated by A Separate Peace, so I will recommend that.
posted by superfem at 2:14 PM on May 4, 2006

An enormous dictionary with lots of color plates of seashells and airplanes and international flags!
posted by Sara Anne at 2:52 PM on May 4, 2006

Um, speaking as a current 8th grader (and self appointed resident youngster mefite), unless you actuually know these kids, you most likely will not be able to find an awesome/perfect book. You can either ask them about their intrests and what kind of books their into, or if it has to be a suprise, ask a friend.

If for whatever reason thats not doable, I also endorse Lies My Teacher Told Me
posted by Suparnova at 4:02 PM on May 4, 2006

Response by poster: Fantastic stuff, everybody, I'm totally blown away by the response! Thank you for all of your wonderful suggestions and thoughtful consideration.

To answer some questions, one award is for leadership and academic excellence, and the other is for outstanding self-advocacy and self-confidence. The awards are a surprise, so I can't tell them or as friends what they might like. One of them enjoys drama, and the other computer gaming (we both like Halo, and there's a 23-year difference in our ages!).

BTW, I feel incredibly lucky to have them as my advisees...
posted by tomadelic at 6:30 PM on May 4, 2006

Wow...I can't tell you how much I appreciate being singled out by you jackasses for my suggestion of The Fountainhead. Threads like this aren't supposed to be critical or "attack-based." I gave what I deem to be an honest opinion based on the question.
I could easily get all snarky with the bullshit left/progressive/garbage books that some of you other folks have recommended, but that's not really what this thread is about, is it?
posted by davidmsc at 7:20 PM on May 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

Frankly, I think the classic young adult novel of this generation is The Golden Compass. Non-nerdy fantasy that's still deeply intelligent.

If you choose that, and if your budget is big enough, I suggest getting the entire trilogy (Northern Lights/The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass). The story's richer that way.

I might be the oddball here, but I would have squeed if any of these books were given to me as a school award. I love books. I did get a dictionary once, and to me it was very strange, because dictionaries are commonplace here and I already had one. I'd rather get something interesting to read - fiction or nonfiction.

Leadership, academic excellence, self-advocacy, self-confidence...try looking for books that have to do with speaking up or making your own choices. There's a book by Grace Llewelyn (the title escapes me) about unschooling, or at least deciding your own education, and they might appreciate that.

Do let us know what you decide to choose!
posted by divabat at 7:59 PM on May 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

The Grace Llewelyn book is the Teenage Liberation Handbook. As a school award, I don't think it would be appropriate. (It says schools are not a good use of time and kids would be better off unschooling/homeschooling. As accurate as that may be, depending upon the child, it's not what a school should be saying.)

I just have to add that I hated Catcher in the Rye and Asimov when I was a kid, and I think you're more likely to get that reaction if you give either of those to a girl.

Some of my favorite books right now are:
-Extraordinary Origins of Everyday things by Charles Panati (A, nonfiction)
- Peeps by Scott Westerfeld (YA, m)
-Saffy's Angel by Hilary McKay (YA, f)
-A Hat full of sky by Terry Pratchett (YA, f)
-A Solitary blue by Cynthia Voigt (YA, m)
-Blink by Malcolm Gladwell (A, non fic)
-Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia McKillip (A, fant.)
-Megatokyo by Fred Gallagher (A, m)
-Pattern recognition by William Gibson (A, SF, f)
-The Blue sword by Robin McKinley (YA, fant., f)

That's YA: Young Adult, A:Adult, f:female protagonist, m:male protagonist, non-fiction, science-fiction, fantasy, and unless otherwise stated, they are fictional.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:31 PM on May 4, 2006

More important than what book you choose is the personal message you write to them on the flyleaf.
posted by zanni at 2:40 AM on May 5, 2006

unless you actuually know these kids, you most likely will not be able to find an awesome/perfect book

I think suparnova's right. Most books I got as a kid resulted in a 'meh' reaction. The ones I picked out for *myself,* on the other hand...

A gift certificate at a good local independent bookstore is a great way to 1) encourage kids to explore and grow and 2) reward them with something you know they'll end up liking. It also honors them as smart enough to make their own choices, which is surely something most 8th-graders would appreciate.
posted by mediareport at 7:28 AM on May 5, 2006

In my first year of university, I won a "book award" in my elective astronomy class. The department thought I would rather have $50 than have a book, but to be honest, they were wrong. $50 just disapeered into my general expenses, but a book (preferrably a nice good read on astronomy, selected by my professor) with a plate inside saying what it was for would have been truly memorable. Again in my last year, I won a history book award, but again, had no book (just a bit of money). The money was useful, but altogether it was a bit disapointing, and I have nothing to remind me of these achievements.

That said, if the students are bright, they will probably not want to read anything inspiring or uplifting - most are just too saccrine. Did they win awards for particular subjects? eg, history, science, english? Is there something in your subject that would be a very good read? Something not too dry, but challenging and which will grow with them. A People's History of the United States is good that way, though (as a history student who is not studying the US) it is getting so famous now it's a little over done. There are many many good history books out there.

Is there anything related to projects or research they may have done? In grade 8, I had just done a very large research project on early Chinese immigrants to Canada, and I was quite interested in Chinese and Japanese Canadian history because of it.
posted by jb at 9:25 AM on May 5, 2006

Wow...I can't tell you how much I appreciate being singled out by you jackasses for my suggestion of The Fountainhead. [...] I could easily get all snarky with the bullshit left/progressive/garbage books that some of you other folks have recommended, but that's not really what this thread is about, is it?

Well, I know several conservatives who think it's atrociously written, too, even if they share some sympathy with its ideology. So it ain't just the MeFi left brigade trying to take it down on the basis on politics.

posted by scody at 11:34 AM on May 5, 2006

Not the point, scody. The point is that my suggestion was mocked/criticized/booed. No need for such.
posted by davidmsc at 10:56 PM on May 5, 2006

No, you tried to pass it off as nefarious liberal bias. I was pointing out that, as far as its quality of writing goes, it's widely considered to be a badly written novel (and thus probably not a good choice in this context) across the political spectrum.

And as far as your admonitions of "that's not what this thread is about" and "no need for such" goes, I'll point out that you're the one who resorted to name-calling (i.e., "you jackasses") when not a single one of us who criticized The Fountainhead said one word about you, personally.

You're free to defend the book on its own merits and make an argument, but spare us the petulance, please, when you get a lot of disagreement in return.
posted by scody at 1:25 PM on May 6, 2006

Ditto on Best American NonRequired Reading. Awesome stuff in it, and also kindaof neat coming from a teacher.

(Yes, I hate Catcher in the Rye, although I love Nine Stories.)
posted by radioamy at 7:48 PM on May 6, 2006

Response by poster: I am, indeed, required to purchase an actual book for each of them. They need to have a somewhat academic focus, which narrows things down considerably. Oh, and we already use the People's History of the United States in our classes...

Also, I appreciate all of your suggestions -- this is why Ask Metafilter is such a great place. I'll be making my decision this week, and will certainly let you know what I decide, but as sappy as it sounds I think each choice would be excellent.

Thanks again.
posted by tomadelic at 9:49 AM on May 9, 2006

Response by poster: It was extremely tough, and I've spent more time (and money) on this than they probably wanted me to, but here are my final choices:

A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition by Bill Bryson for the student who loves science and discovery (thanks, bondcliff!), and Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel, et. al. for the student who has a great sense of global citizenship and social responsibility. I hope they enjoy them, and get some sort of lasting value from them in the years to come.

I have read and enjoyed so much of the other stuff mentioned, and have yet to discover still more ... I think I should give them the full list and let them explore!
posted by tomadelic at 1:23 PM on May 9, 2006

Those sound like great choices.
posted by jb at 6:25 AM on May 10, 2006

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