My newest science thriller for young readers, WAKE UP MISSING, has had me thinking a lot about dreams and goals lately. In it, four middle school students with concussions are sent to an elite head injury clinic at a former military facility deep in the Florida Everglades. But not long into their treatment, they begin to suspect that the doctors there are doing more than treating their headaches. Little by little, the kids come to understand that they’ve been made unknowing subjects in an experiment that could threaten their very identities, and everything they’ve dreamed of becoming could be gone with a single twist of their DNA.
High school honor classes…college…hockey…a career in art…a life working with horses… It all hangs in the balance as the kids realize their only hope of saving their futures is a daring escape through the wilds of the Florida swamp.
Sometimes, when you’re a kid, that elusive future seems so far away that it can be hard to stay motivated when you’re working day in and day out in the present. Characters in books for middle school readers can provide great role models, whether they’re fighting for survival to save their futures like the kids in WAKE UP MISSING or working diligently toward a personal goal like some of the kids in the novels below:
Four Characters Who Set Goals…and Stick to Them!
THE RUNNING DREAM by Wendelin Van Draanen—Jessica was a star runner until the accident that stole her leg and her dreams. This story follows her journey through recovery, her struggles to adapt to a prosthetic leg, and her daring dream to run again. What makes Jessica an even more inspirational character is that she doesn’t dream only for herself. Her story will inspire young readers not only to reach for their goals but to make sure they play a role in helping others’ dreams come true as well.
MAY B. by Caroline Rose Star—May is a character from the pages of history, but she’s also a student we all know—the kid who struggles with reading and has come to believe that she’s “just not a reader.” In this adventurous story told in free verse, May is sent to work for a family on the prairie, only to be trapped in a brutal winter storm. When she’s stranded inside their snowed-in sod house for weeks, she must confront her memories of failure and build her own future even as she struggles to survive the winter cold.
IT’S RAINING CUPCAKES by Lisa Schroeder—12-year-old Isabel’s dream job is full of cupcakes and other baked goods. But for now, the aspiring middle school baker just wants to compete in a baking contest whose winner earns a trip to New York City to compete in the finals. Isabel is a great character whose story is sure to launch lots of discussions about setting goals and working toward them—even when some of the most important people in your life might not be supportive right away.
NOTES FROM AN ACCIDENTAL BAND GEEK by Erin Dionne—Elsie Wyatt is nothing if not goal-driven, but she’s forced to step out of her comfort zone when the elite summer music camp she hopes to attend requires her to join another kind of ensemble to show musical diversity. Her only option? Trading in her beautiful, dignified French horn for a marching band mellophone and putting on one of those crazy-big hats with the plumes. Elsie is a great reminder for kids that reaching goals often means stepping out of our boxes to try new things….and that sometimes, goals change along the way when we grow.
These characters—and others like them—who show determination and a great work ethic can be powerful role models for student readers when it comes to striving for their own goals in life.
Want to use WAKE UP MISSING in your classroom? Find the teacher's guide here. KATE MESSNER is a former middle-school English teacher and the author of E. B.
White Read Aloud Award-winner THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z., SUGAR AND ICE, EYE OF THE STORM, a 2013 NSTA-CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book, CAPTURE THE FLAG, the Marty McGuire chapter book series, and two picture books, SEAMONSTER’S FIRST DAY and OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW. She lives on Lake Champlain with her husband and two kids. When she’s not reading or writing, she loves hiking, kayaking, biking, and watching thunderstorms over the lake.
© 2013 Kate Messner. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise. Character Connections: Finding Yourself in the Story ) “Invent Your Future” on International Literacy Day