5-7, 7-12, Books, Children

5 Great Spooky Middlegrade Books/Series

These are the recommendations I have been waiting for.  As a child I couldn’t get enough of the horror genre … and that may have pervaded into my adulthood as well.  I want to talk about some hidden gems in the kids section that are on the scary side but definitely worth picking up around this time of year.  Whether it is just meant to be a good spooky tale or an outside reading project any of these books are worth a look.

It has been a long time since I saw a horror book in the kids section that doesn’t try to tamp down the scare factor and mix in some adventure … at least as far as the cover is concerned.  Took has one of the simplest … spookiest covers out there at the moment.  It is befitting a ghost story … or is it a witch story … both?  This story involves the very real fear of being a new kid in town alongside some scary local legends.  When the protagonist’s little sister starts acting strange, talking to her doll more than the real people around her, and finally disappearing into the woods he realizes that the stories kids have been telling him, might not be hazing pranks but may actually be true.  This is perhaps the scariest story on this list … at least in its simplicity.  It is the basic ghost story that you will find in the adult section as well.  This one is definitely meant for the horror buff, or for the brave kids who want to try something a bit more real.

 

I have posts where I discuss this new series by D. J. MacHale.  He was one of my favorite children’s writers growing up and he also wrote for and produced some of my favorite spooky television shows including Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Ghostwriter.  Am I dating myself here?  You might see this one in bookstores as Surrender the Key instead of Curse of the Boggin, they are the same book, there was just a title change between the hardcover and paperback editions.  This one is about a young boy who inherits a key, and a monster who can take the form of anything it chooses that sorely wants it.  How does a young boy outsmart a centuries old baddie who can better be described as simple bad luck.  Give it a try, and step into The Library where all sorts of mysteries throughout time are begging to be solved.

Yes, this might seem like a bit of a throw away recommendation.  Goosebumps have been a staple of the children’s section for more than 20 years at this point, but I want to throw out there the particular brand of Goosebumps books that took a page out of Choose Your Own Adventure novels.  Rather than a happy go lucky romp into space here you must choose between saving your best friends or investigating the weird man who took your backpack.  This particular one stuck with me as a kid, I still remember the scenes where the protagonist was seperated into all of its component pieces but maintained sentience enough to register that their eyes were in seperate jars from their mouth, their hands, and their feet.  A great adventure than can last from a few page turns to a good while if you play your cards right.  Just Beware because any mundane choice you make could be THE END!

We all know how terrifying the monsters our brains come up with in our sleep can be.  This story follows a young boy who cannot remember having a restful night’s sleep.  However, the real nightmare begins when the monsters that plague his dreamscape somehow finds its way into the real world.  This on top of a new stepmother he is pretty sure is a witch, a new house he is pretty sure is haunted, and the usual growing pains that a young boy suffers it is definitely a book worth a little bit of a shiver.  Just don’t read before bed, or you might give yourself Nightmares!

 

Growing up is hard, it is even harder when the end of the world has come via zombie hordes.  This was a new release when I started working in the kids section and it had hit the ground running.  The other really interesting thing about this one, it is a graphic novel.  As you would think, zombies and the fight against the inevitable is definitely stuck right in the middle of the horror genre.  How does a rag tag team composed of your average-joe, the nerdy best friend, a reformed bully, and the token love interest fair during the zombi-pocalypse.

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3-6, 5-7, 7-12, Books, Children

5 Halloween Craft and STEM Books for Kids!

I really want to talk about some great books that include all sorts of crafts, activities, and science experiments and what better time than just before Halloween.  If I could get my hands on all of these and had all the time in the world, you know that I would be making all sorts of crazy crafts, interesting meals, and just all out fun science.

So Harry Potter in itself is not necessarily very spooky.  It may contain witches and wizards but unless your fear is existential (which tbh everyone’s is from time to time) then it isn’t your first thought for Halloween … or maybe it is.  In any case, this guy is a great cookbook if you want to cook up some witchey treats for a Halloween party, or just to pack into lunch boxes throughout the upcoming week.  Plus, its fun to do with the kids themselves.  They can get dressed up and pretend they are playing with some sort of gross experiment foods.  All around good time for everyone involved.  If you love HP then you should check out some of the other books with crafts or some hard core science based on the HP world.

As a quick transition, I want to put out a good kit if you have a science oriented kid without wasting all of the ingredients.  Science experiments you can eat is a great book for a parent who wants to let their kids explore scientific theories but doesn’t want to throw out half of their pantry every other day.  Dress up as a zombie chef who wants to elevate the flavor profile of the zombie hordes and throw some chemistry knowledge down.  You might learn a thing or two as well (like how to make mayonnaise from scratch).

Along the same lines here is a great book with every day science experiments that are easy and fun to do.  Rather than being food oriented these are more of your traditional learning experiences.  Make some goop, learn about electricity, or throw together some chemical reactions while having fun and making a mess.  This is a great book for some mad scientist parties.  I remember doing experiments like this in elementary school and even in high school the flashiest chemistry experiments were the best.  You learn the most when you are having fun, mad fun.

If your kid is less interested in science but you still want to make things together this is a great option for crafting.  Help them decorate the house with spooky ghosts, or make gifts for their friends to bring to school!  I was definitely a crafty, artsy kid and I would have loved making these cute little nick-knacks.  Plus, it is free.  If you really like what is in here then pinterest is a great resource where parents and teachers alike bring you some of their favorite spooky crafts.

Now I admit that the last one is not as Halloween themed as the rest.  I just really recommend this book.  The autumn is a time to enjoy the last remaining bits of temperate weather before playing outside becomes miserable.  This book has a lot of really great learning tips and fun ideas for parents who want to take advantage of that.  It has tips for all seasons and while some seem pretty straight forward, sometimes just having a list of the options in front of you is a great way to jump start some fun.  Go on a ghost hunt outside and learn about hibernation, the leaves changing colors, migration and countless other natural phenomena specific to this time of year.  Then read up on great experiences that you yourself might want to take part in before you grow up.

2-5, 3-6, Books, Children

5 Monster Picture Books for a Fun Halloween

For this week leading up to Halloween week I wanted to throw out some great spooky recommendations for kids.

I’m starting with the youngest and as they are meant for little kids these stories are not so scary, but star some of our favorite Halloween Horrors.

 

This one in particular is one of my favorites.  Monsters of all shapes and sizes are staples this time of year and many kids can relate to the fear of the monster under the bed.  This is a story of a young boy whose Monster is going to spend a week on vacation and he just can’t get to sleep without his monster’s usual slurps and groans.  He spends the week testing different Monsters but in the end, there is only one Monster for him.  If your kid is a Monster’s Inc fan, or is a little bit picky this story will definitely resonate with them.  We all know what it is like to feel like something isn’t right, we just might not realize that the thing that the knowledge of the thing that scares us is the thing  that makes us feel safest.

 

Some of you might recognize this author as  none other than the chronicler of A Series of Unfortunate Events.  Known for his melancholic nature it is surprising to read such an adorable story… even if it is about a dead fish.  Goldfish Ghost is the story of … well a goldfish ghost trying to find the right place for him.  He was lonely on the boys dresser and nobody seems to pay him much attention in the real world.  You follow along on his journey to find a friend and get to see our world from an incredibly unique perspective.  Definitely worth a read.

Zombies are a personal favorite this time of year.  I think I was a zombie of a ghoul at least three Halloweens in a row (but then again I was a fan of scary things at Halloween rather than Princesses, Witches, or Dolls.  I find this one super cute in general, but  if you have a kid who feels a little unique or left out.  When one little zombie wants a peanut butter & jelly sandwich … rather than brains. It shows how sticking to your opinions and being yourself is worth while.  Even old … zombies … can learn new tricks.

 

My little sister dressed as a black cat one year, and my family has always raised black cats so this one is a favorite just for that.  This is a story about fear, about overcoming fears and facing the world unafraid.  This is the story about someone who thinks he is brave, even when he isn’t and is brave even when he thinks he isn’t.  Cat owners will especially love this one, and the art style is very evocative and cute.  Always a plus.

I know monsters can feel like a boys club, I certainly felt that way as a child, even as a tom boy I was frustrated that the things I liked seemed to be marketed exclusively at boys.  Well, vampires have certainly become a beloved thing for young girls and this cute little one is no exception.  It is hard to be a ballerina when you are also a vampire.  Not all aspects of it match up with the vampire life style.  Following your dreams is important and so she pushes through.  Definitely a good choice for a little dancer or for a little darkling like myself.

Hopefully these guys sounded interesting.  There are scores more great spooky picture books out there.  Head to your local library and I’m sure the librarians will have some favorites for you to choose from.  There are always interesting new ones coming out as well so its worth a trip to the book store to see what  was released in that department as well.

2-5, 3-6, 5-7, 7-12, Books, Children

New Releases in Children’s Literature October 2017

I wanted to bring together a bunch of the releases for the month, I slightly underestimated just how many books come out in one month for kids.  I don’t know if October is just a heavy month for book releases, gearing up toward Christmas and all that or if this is the sheer volume of new releases in the section every month.  I suppose if I do continue with this section I will get an idea.

There was a lot of work put into a post which is little more than a glorified list, but because I had to work so hard to compile all of these new releases I figured there would be some value in making a nice easy to parse format for others.

I wanted to do a visual version with the covers, but this post is long enough with the titles, series and authors.  If you are interested in looking at all of the beautiful covers I highly recommend clicking the links through to their Goodreads pages because the art is always great.

Without further ado, the new releases, a.ka. publishers, take my money:

                                       

October 3

MiddleGrade

The Ship of the Dead (Magnus Chase #3) by Rick Riordan
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Illustrated Edition by J. K. Rowling
The War I Finally Won (War that Saved My Life #2) by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Black Moon Rising (The Library #2) by D. J. Machale
The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell
Red Moon Rising (Survivors: The Gathering Darkness #4) by Erin Hunter
Robots & Repeats (Secret Coders #4) by Gene Luen Yang
Predator vs Prey (Going Wild #2) by Lisa McMann
Who Gives a Hoot? (Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet #3) by Jacqueline Kelly
The Adventurers Guild by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos
The Perfect Score by Rob Buyea
Ghosts of Greenglass House (Greenglass House #2) by Kate Milford
Touchdown Kid by Tim Green
The Serpent’s Shadow: The Graphic Novel (Kane Chronicles #3) by Rick Riordan
Sting (Loot #2) by Jude Watson
The Unlikely  Story of a Pig in the City by Jodi Kendall
Timeless:Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic (Timeless #1) by Armand Baltazar
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
Max Tilt: Fire the Depths (Max Tilt #1) by Peter Lerangis
The Doldrums (Doldrums #1) by Nicholas Gannon
How to Catch a Dino Thief (Dino Riders #4) by Will Dare
Louis Undercover by Fanny Britt
Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy (Charlie & Mouse #2) by Laurel Snyder
Once Was a Time by Leila Sales
A Shiver of Snow and Sky by Lisa Lueddecke
Voyage to Avalon (Mice of the Round Table #2) by Julie Leung

Picture Books

You’re All Kinds of Wonderful by Nancy Tillman
I am Gandhi by Brad Meltzer
I am Sacagawea by Bran Meltzer
La La La: A Story of Hope by Kate DiCamillo
I’m Not a Scaredy-Cat: A Prayer for When You Wish You Were Brave by Max Lucado
The Bad Mood and the Stick by Lemony Snicket
Remembering Vera by Patricia Polacco
Pup and Bear by Kate Banks
Odd Dog by Fabien Ockto Lambert
Mango, Abuela, and Me by Meg Medina
ABCs of Mathematics by Chris Ferrie
ABCs of Physics by Chris Ferrie
ABCs of Science by Chris Ferrie
Pigeon P.I. by Meg McLaren
A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman
Mice Skating by Annie Silvestro
Love, Triangle by Marcie Colleen
Pierre The Maze Detective: The Mystery of the Empire Maze Tower by Hiro Kamigaki
Where’s Halmoni? by Julie Kim
The Great Puppy Invasion by Alastair Heim
Willa and the Bear by Philomena O’Neill

October 10

Middle Grade

Making Mistakes on Purpose (Ms. Rapscott’s Girls #2) by Elise Primavera
Spy School Secret Service (Spy School #5) by Stuart Gibbs
The Silver Mask (Magisterium #4) by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race (Mr. Lemoncello’s Library #3) by Chris Grabenstein
Race to the Bottom of the Sea by Lindsay Eagar
Monster Notebook: A Branches Special Edition (The Notebook of Doom #13) by Troy Cummings
The Wildcat’s Claw (Spirit Animals: Fall of the Beasts #6) by Varian Johnson
Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package (Tales from Deckawoo Drive #4) by Kate Dicamillo
The Land of Flowers (Thea Stilton: Special Edition #6) by Thea Stilton
Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin
Tentacle and Wing by Sarah Porter
The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie
Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom by Gigi D.G.
The Chocopocalypse by Chris Callaghan
The Downward Spiral (Lock and Key #2) by Ridley Pearson
The Incredible Magic of Being by Kathryn Erskine
My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson
Laura Ingalls is Ruining my Life by Shelley Tougas
Watchdog by Will McIntosh
The Gnome Exchange Program: North Pole Rescue by Matt Caliri
Peter Powers and the Sinister Snowman Showdown! by Kent Clark
Saturdays with Hitchcock by Ellen Wittlinger

Picture Books

Everything is Mama by Jimmy Fallon
The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett
Grandpa’s Ghost Stories by James Flora (Reprint)
Bizzy Mizz Lizzie by David Shannon
Rory the Dinosaur needs a Christmas Tree by Liz Climo
Superheroes Club by Madeleine Sherak
Larry Gets Lost in San Diego by John Skewes and Eric Ode

October 17

Middle Grade

Phoebe and Her Univorn in the Magic Storm (Heavenly Nostrils #6) by Dana Simpson
Miss Tracy is Spacey! (My Weirdest School #9) by Dan Gutman
Tales from a Not-So-Secret Crush Catastrophe (Dork Diaries #12) by Rachel Renee Russell
Frank Einstein and the Bio-Action Gizmo (Frank Einstein #5) by Jon Scieszka
Wallace the Brave by Will Henry
The Player King by Avi
The Summer of Owen Todd by Tony Abbott
Bunjitsu Bunny vs. Bunjitsu Bunny (Bunjitsu Bunny #4) by John Himmelman
Miriam’s Secret by Debby Waldman
The Girl Who Knew Even More (Munchem Academy #2) by Commander S.T. Bolivar III
Applewhites Coast to Coast (Applewhites #3) by Steaphanie S. Tolan and R.J. Tolan
Harper and the Circus of Dreams (Harper #2) by Cerrie Burnell

Picture Books

Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, Kerascoet
Through Your Eyes: My Child’s Gift to Me by Ainsley Earhardt
Night of the Moonjellies by Mark Shasha (Reprint)
My Journey to the Stars by Scott Kelly
Windows by Julia Denos
The Lumberjack’s Beard by Duncan Beedie
Book or Bell? by Chris Barton
What Do Grown-ups Do All Day? by Virginie Morgand
Singing in the Rain by Tim Hopgood

October 24

Middle Grade

Revenge of the Space Pirates (Galactic Hot Dogs #3) by Max Brallier
Lawn of Doom (Plants vs. Zombies #8) by Paul Tobin
Journey to the Crystal Cave (The Adventures of Sophie Mouse #11) by Poppy Green
Death and Douglas by J.W. Ocker
Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr
Fairday Morrow and the Talking Library (Fairday Morrow #2) by Stephanie Robinson
The Piper’s Apprentice (The Secrets of the Pied Piper #3) by Matthew Cody
The Whiz Mob and the Frenadine Kid by Colin Meloy
Wings for Wyatt (Tales of Sasha #6) by Alexa Pearl
Reign of Outlaws (Robyn Hoodlum #3) by Kekla Magoon
Ruby and Olivia by Rachel Hawkins

Picture Books

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide by Isabel Quintero
Fergus and the Greener Grass by Jean Abernethy
I Am Life by Elisabeth Helland Larsen
Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years by Stacy McAnulty

October 31

Middle Grade

The Wildwood Bakery (Owl Diaries #7) by Rebecca Elliott
Team BFF: Race to the Finish! (Girls Who Code #2) by Stacia Deutsch
Super Rabbit Racers! (Press Start! #3) by Thomas Flintham
Curse of the Harvester (Dream Jumper #2) by Greg Grunberg
Jacky Ha-Ha: My Life is a Joke  (Jacky Ha-Ha #2) by James Patterson
CatStronauts: Space Station Situation (Catstronauts #3) by Drew Brockington
The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor #1) by Jessica Townsend
The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill
Little Bigfoot, Big City (The Littlest Bigfoot #2) by Jennifer Weiner
The Audition (Audition #1) by Maddie Ziegler
The Fourth Ruby (Section 13 #2) by James R. Hannibal
The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange
Have Sword, Will Travel by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Picture Books

Thelma the Unicorn by Aaron Blabey
Give Thank You a Try by Bill O’Reilly and James Patterson
This is Not a Normal Animal Book by Julie Segal Walters

7-12, Books, Hi-Lo

Black Moon Rising: The Library Book 2 by D. J. MacHale Review

I have now had the pleasure to read the advance reader copy of both books in this series, which feels like a dream knowing that MacHale wrote my favorite series from childhood.  I have some mixed feelings on it, but I will tell you about the good and the bad as we get there.

Title: Black Moon Rising
Series Title: The Library
Author: D. J. MacHale
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Page #:
Genre: Middlegrade, Horror, Action/Adventure

Growing up D. J. MacHale had a huge influence on me and it wasn’t until I was in high school that I realized just how much.  I didn’t know that he had written for shows that I was obsessed with growing up (Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Ghostwriter are both shows I have very vivid memories of loving) plus Pendragon was my be all and end all series as a kid (Yes, I even liked it better than Harry Potter if you believe that).  I hadn’t really touched any of the books that he has written since Pendragon though.  This was partially due to my focus during this period of time being college and literary fiction and classics dominating most of my reading.

When I saw the first Library book sitting on the back room of the Barnes and Noble I worked at I snatched it up immediately.  I read it in one sitting.  So when I saw the sequel up on Netgalley I through my lot in and came up a winner.  I enjoyed this one just as much, read it in one sitting as well.  The problems I had were minor and more or less related to picky adult things.  I am certain that kids would not have the same issues but I figure I would explain my thoughts just the same.

There was a handful of times throughout the book that some pop culture reference was made and it didn’t jive with me very well.  The most notable would be a mention of the app. Temple Run.  The problem I have with a reference like this is that it very specifically dates the book.  Temple Run is a game that was quite popular for a while, and may still be popular, but applications like this one come in and out of fashion so quickly that in even a year it is possible kids won’t get the reference.  Now, there isn’t really a great way of knowing whether something will have longevity, I am sure people were discouraged from mentioning Pokemon in the 90s for the same reason, but that is a franchise that is still going strong.  No offense to Temple Run, but I don’t personally see it surviving in the same way.

Now, why is this a big deal?

I see this series having the ability to become a serious contender with R. L. Stine’s Goosebump series which has stood the test of time.  Children from several generations have chosen their own scares or bit their nails right along with Mr. Stine, and there wasn’t much out there similar to it.  The Library has the potential to do that.  This is not only because it has very strong horror elements and themes, the size and difficulty of the texts being relatively low (aimed closer to the 7-10 market but good for all young readers if they are interested), and the ability to dip in and out of the series without missing plot.  Each book is a contained story within itself.  You can read it in order, or you can jump around and either approach works.  If the books date themselves too harshly they won’t be able to stay on bookstore shelves as a staple series for 20 years, they will become too far distanced from the readers.

This issue is one that is clearly rooted in my want for this series to succeed.  Children of today will have no issue with this, in fact they will relate to the characters more because of references like this.  I just fear for its future.

The second minor issue I had was in a detail that I might be the perfect reader to notice.  There is a character in this story who likes playing with fire crackers.  This isn’t a big deal, a lot of kids like playing with explosives, especially the trouble making types, the problem comes in when this fact is paired with the setting of the book.  The characters in this book are housed in Western Massachusetts (where I currently live and grew up coincidentally) and all manner of fire crackers and fire works are highly illegal in our state.  You are not allowed to carry them over State lines even if you are traveling from one state where they are legal to another.  Now this could be easily rectified by simply integrating the added danger that not only is he playing with explosives, but contraband explosives.  Again, a little detail, that most people would not notice but one that warrants mentioning.

With all of this said and done, I want to talk about the things I enjoy.  The premise of these books is amazing in my opinion.  MacHale is an endless fountain of creativity from my perspective.  He can come up with so many interesting and complex ideas that include morals and empathy in stories with heart pounding suspense and vivid visuals.  His background in writing for T.V. definitely helps him here.  If you have a reluctant reader, who doesn’t like books because they are boring, hand them one of these and watch how quickly he can consume them.  When the pacing is correct and the subject matter helps propel the story along it is hard to put the book down.

I saw the twist at the end coming.  I have to say that I saw it and then thought he was going to do something different, and was a bit disappointed when it was what I originally thought.  However, my ending may have been a bit too dark for a kids book (although that never stopped Roald Dahl).  The threat in these books feels life threatening which helps the story maintain an element of fear even when the subject matter is something as well known as witches.  I approved of the way it ended, even if I did see it coming, there are certainly kids who might not.  There are kids who will follow all of the Red Herrings placed before them.  This is the fun, the parcing out of the real whodunnit.

The returning cast of characters were all as quirky as I remember them from the first one.  I will definitely hold a place in my heart for The Librarian (won’t elaborate less I spoil something).  I like how the two best friend characters in this series are able to actively participate in the adventures which is markedly different than Pendragon, but also creates a new dynamic.  The “magic” of the universe is also well established and set within its own rules which is greatly appreciated.

This was a good book, I will read more in the series as they come out and hope that they continue to improve.  Is this series going to usurp Pendragon, no, not in my opinion.  If you want to hear me talk about that I did a reread of the whole series in college with some of my friends and you can watch our discussions of those here!  I did a review of the first book in this series as well.  It is always hard to review a sequel because I don’t feel comfortable talking too much about the plot and mechanics.  I tried to stick to structure and key elements of the story here and hopefully was able to convey my feelings.

I recommend you guys pick this one up if you have a little one who loves horror, or needs something smaller and fast paced to get them through a book.  It might be a great read aloud bed time story if you are a parent who is really great at ominous voice work.  I am excited to see what kids have to say about it, so let me know what they think if you can!  The book will be out next Tuesday! 10/3/17

 

Books, Children, Musings

5 Commonly Banned Books and Why I Loved Them

This post is what it says on the tin.  I attempted to look at some of the most commonly banned books over the ten years or so (found on the american library association website) and pick out a couple of books that I really loved.  I wanted to show them for their merit.  Now I don’t think that there has been a single book on any of the lists that made me upset or worry for the health and safety of the kids reading them, but my opinion on book banning has already been discussed in detail this week.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was a staple book in my fourth grade life.  I loved the whole series.  I took them out, one after the other.  As soon as one was available in the library I would snatch it up.  This should be of no surprise to folks who know me.  I have always been a horror fan, even tiny me was drawn to the spooks and the scares.  I can understand why some parents would find this book offensive.  The images alone were enough to give some kids nightmares.  I will also admit that there were particular stories that actually followed me throughout life.  I remembered them in the same way that I remember the purple muck monster from the finale of ghost writer.  If you watched that show then you know exactly what I mean.  I wanted to pull this guy out first because it was so well loved by me.  I can’t really talk to the literary merit… it is an interesting collection of fables and folk tales, ghost stories, and warnings.  I recently reread the first book as I saw that it was re-released (with far less traumatizing art disappointingly) and while it was a pleasant enough and full of nostalgic pleasure but I’m not sure it actually teaches kids anything.  I’m not sure it needs to.  It was a book to take home and read and giggle about.  It was a book to read aloud to your friends and scare their pants of during sleep overs.  It was meant to be fun, and I think that is defense enough.  It is a book which is only meant to be fun.  It has no motives, no hidden meaning, no message.  It simply exists to be consumed and shared.

Speaking of fun: The Adventures of Captain Underpants.  Now I will admit, that I only read the first one when I was young.  I was very much a tom boy when I was young and I was usually reading the books that the boys in class were reading.  At least in public, I did have my fair share of babysitter’s club novels, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s complete works, and Mary Poppins right next to my bed.  I remember parents being outraged at this book when I was a child.  How on earth could something so crass as a naked super hero who fights toilets and poop monsters be acceptable reading for kids.  I agree, the humor was not really for me.  I found it a bit gross, the tiny girl in me existed.  However, it completely matched the sense of humor of most of those third grade boys.  They were all about bathroom humor.  Some of them grew up and continued to love it.  I have no problem with boys reading fart jokes and honestly the drawing of this young boy wearing nothing but his underpants is anything but provocative.  I think the the stigma around it has fallen away a bit.  Again, I think the main problem here is that this is a book created entirely to be fun.  It is meant to install a joy of reading.  You can read books because they talk about poop.  Isn’t that silly.  Not just for girls with their silly girl things.  I wouldn’t take this away from a kid who enjoyed it.  Perhaps they will be hooked on stories eventually.  What do you think?  Too gross, inappropriate, too lascivious.  Look at the red cape, oh how dirty.

This is the last book on this list that I read before high school, in fact most of the top banned books are definitely being read in high school, or found in libraries where open access is important (I’m looking at you books about puberty, or sexual education).  I would like to point out that this book won the Newberry Award.  This book was picked as the best book for young readers the year it was published.  Clearly, it has literary merit.  It was a book that discussed, friendship, imagination, escapism, abuse, life, death, and growing up.  I read it in elementary school, but most of my peers didn’t read it until Middle school.  I distinctly remember this book making me cry.  Now this wasn’t a shocked and forever scarred type of cry it was the crying of deep empathy and loss.  I fell in love with the characters and I cried because they were hurting.  Many authors and teachers have lauded how reading helps build empathy.  This is true whether you are a child or an adult.  The act of reading asks you to willfully suspend your disbelief and follow other people, sometimes literally within their own head.  It builds the ability to see yourself in someone else’s point of view.  To look at problems from many different perspectives.  For children this is extremely important because they are still learning this skill (there are some adults who need a brush up on it as well).  This book was profoundly moving and one that I will always love.  I have not picked it up to reread yet, but it is on the list.  It may be a while before I get to it, because my own mental health has me leaning toward books that don’t tear my heart out and crush it in one blow.  The pain is good.  It helps you grow.  Just know when you are ready for it.

Speaking of incredibly heart breaking books that help build empathy.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of the best Young Adult books tackling depression and suicide that I have ever read.  A lot of books make depression seem like an unending rain cloud that blinds the person it affects and prevents them from doing anything but sleep.  While it definitely can do this from time to time, the protagonist does discuss how he is able to make friends, to fall in love, to have fun.  In so many ways he is a normal teenager.  Yes, he experiments with drugs and alcohol, yes he experiments with a bit of sex and romance.  This is also something you will find in most high schools.  This fictional world is very real.  Trying to keep it out of schools because of the aspects of teenage life that show up in glimpses is like trying to get rid of roses because they have thorns.  Sure, it might be prettier without them, but is it really a rose any more.  Those elements add legitimacy to a book that is meant to discuss mental health.  The point of the book is for the teens reading it to fall into the head of the protagonist and to understand his motives and emotions.  It breaks your heart at the end, but it also helps show how his emotions were real, they were a legitimate disease and not a lifestyle or an emotion.  Look at the whole picture.  Look at the things this book does exceedingly well.  The rest is just costuming and set pieces.  Necessary for the presentation of the show.

This book is maybe the pinnacle young adult novel.  This is a book found on every single state’s curriculum.  It is a must read.  Not only is it a brilliant book, and interesting frame narrative, a great book for the discussion of literary tools like imagery, metaphor, unreliable narrators, etc.  A book that reduces teenage angst into its most potent and pure form.  My own experience with this book was a bit rocky.  My class read it after having read three brutal war novels and I just could not take Holden seriously.  However, I could recognize why this book is considered a modern classic, why it is a great book and why it was important to read and discuss.  Yes, Holden does a bit of drinking, orders himself a prostitute that he has a very civilized conversation with.  It discusses what it is like to feel like you aren’t quite right in the head.  Like you don’t really fit in.  That you are playing a part in your own life.  The simultaneous dread and excitement for finally being free of the education system and being free to make your own choices and be your own person.  It is an important book.  It has a lot to teach.  This many professionals do not put a book in such high standing without it having at least a smidge of merit.  Again, the few counterpoints that would make this book seem corrupting are besides the point.  They are flavor text meant to add depth to the character who is on his own and trying to figure himself out.  Again, mental illness is a theme here and the “adult” actions he attempts to participate in, don’t really work out for him.  He wishes he could keep everyone safe and young.  He feels tainted himself.  This is a lesson that anyone who would want to ban should also appreciate.

I may have fallen a bit into English major mode by the end there, but here you have it.  Five books that are consistently in the top ten of banned books of the year.  I hope you are all having lovely banned books weeks.  Are there any banned books you want to pick up this week?  Are there any that I didn’t talk about that you think I should have discussed.  I didn’t include Harry Potter because I’m not even sure I could form an argument where witchcraft is an acceptable excuse for banning a book, and I didn’t discuss John Green’s Looking for Alaska because I didn’t read it until I was an adult and John Green made a video on the topic that sums up why it shouldn’t be banned already.

Friday, as a change of pace, I have a book review of a book that has not been released yet.  It does include witchcraft and spirits as integral parts of the plot.  It may be something that some folks request to ban in the future, but you should read my review to hear what I thought of it.

3-6, 5-7, 7-12, Books, Children, Hi-Lo

Graphic Novel Recommendations for Kids: Fantasy

One of the biggest booming industries in the middle grade genre at the moment is that of the graphic novel.  Now of course,  comic books have always been a beloved pastime of the young nerd in training but the cultural ideas around comics and graphic novels has been shifting and with that has come a whole new genre of books available to kids both avid readers and those who require something a little easier.

My younger brother was never a big reader like most of the women in my family (I still believe part of that has something to do with cultural gender norms) but most of it had to do with his struggle to read and his preference to other ways of passing the time.  I was a kid who would read for hours with no issue, or play video games, or all manners of arts and crafts.  He was a bit more focused in the things he liked to do and was adamant against any other suggestions.

However, he did follow my love of super heroes and so comics were a good way to get him reading when he wouldn’t be interested in a regular book.  Now I don’t think that kids should read graphic novels alone, but getting them to read a story is a win in my book and here are some action packed adventure suggestions for anyone who should want them.

For anyone who has never seen one of my recommendation posts, clicking the cover photo will open the goodreads page for that book so you can read more.

I have a full review of this guy on the blog already if you missed it but the tl;dr version of it is: This is a great action story set in a steam punk world where most folks live on giant flying ships separated from those on the ground by giant dangerous storm clouds.  Our rambunctious female protagonist is more than ready to come of age to inherit her father’s ship as she has been a constant troublemaker on the ship, unable to really find her own niche.  The world is rich and varied, the characters are incredible bright and well fleshed out both visually and through their characterization.  This might be worth the look for any young girls (or boys) who are interested in mechanical engineering or robotics.

Now I can’t completely vouch for the graphic version of this book because it is an adaptation of a Newbery Award winning book by the same title.  The reason I am throwing it in here as an option is to show how there are graphic novel versions of a lot of really well written and complex stories.  For kids who have a hard time parsing through language the graphic version may be a good option for them (even classic children’s books like A Wrinkle in Time have graphic versions)  This story is an adorable one about a child who lives in a graveyard and raised by the spirits who reside there.  Neil Gaiman is a master of fantastic fiction for both children and adults and will appeal to folks who enjoy a little bit of creepiness in their books as well as a lot of heart and humor.  Worth the read for adults as well in my opinion.

This one is great for slightly older kids (7th grade and older)  It discusses what it is like to go through puberty, to begin to feel a bit out of place in your school and your family, and what it is like to be an outcast.  Anya needs a new friend, she just didn’t realize that she would find one … at the bottom of a well.  This is a cute little story and the art is simplistic for kids who don’t care about the massive color spreads.  It is an original graphic novel (created to be a graphic novel specifically) and is also highly recommended for adults in my opinion.  It captures the feeling of young children (especially girls) very well.  The younger kids may not fully relate with Anya and most of the beauty in this one comes through how relateable of a story it is.

Doug TenNapel has several graphic novels made for kids and I would recommend all of them.  I was a kid who loved interesting weird stories (maybe a little scary) so I was most drawn to Ghostopolis.  A young boy is accidentally transported to the realm of the undead and this is the story of his misadventures attempting to leave … while also fighting the evil ruler of Ghostopolis.  It also has a really cute story involving the ghost of the protagonists grandfather and I really appreciated the way that generations and familial ties are used in this story and it would definitely be loved by an child who is worried about the afterlife or how their family members who have passed away are after death.  (Even if their city is ruled by an evil dictator)

This may be the most well known title on this list but I figured I would throw it out there for anyone who hasn’t stepped into the world of middle grade graphic novels.  This was the series that my brother loved and really got him interested into the genre.  This is a more traditional fantasy story about some kids who are on a quest to save their mother from the demons who lured her into a mysterious world on the other side of an out of place door in their basement.  It calls upon so many stories of children falling into fantastic worlds, as well as the idea that they are gaining self sufficiency from their parents while still needing them.  It has great monsters, interesting allies, and is all around fun to read.  This is a must read in the genre, if you aren’t at all interested, I would still highly recommend getting it as an example of everything graphic novels can do.

I want to make this into a series where I discuss different subgenres within the graphic novel arch.  There are great graphic novels on many different subjects and while I am limited to those that have piqued my interest any good bookseller can show you the best way to find graphic novels for kids.  If you have more specific questions about the books that I discussed here or want to hear my thoughts on a different title please let me know down below and I will do my best to compensate you.

5-7, 7-12, Books, Children, Hi-Lo

Nostalgia Junkie: Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo

Part of my journey into recommending kids books has reunited me with some books that I really loved as a child that have fallen by the wayside.

My book club and I have a series where we read/reread some of our favorite series from childhood together (so far we have done A Series of Unfortunate Events and my favorite series from childhood Pendragon) This is going to be a similar thing but I am going to endeavor to do it on my own.

Disclaimer: some of the series that I discuss may be currently out of print so using your local used book stores, libraries, or online stores may be the best/only option for finding them if you are interested.

Book Title: Midnight for Charlie Bone
Series Title: Children of the Red King
Publisher: Orchard
Page #: 416
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

This was a book that I found at my school’s library, brought home, and loved.  It took me a while to remember the title of it when I thought back and wanted to reread it.  It definitely wasn’t the series that grabbed me but I did remember the world and some of the characters as well as my affinity for it.  I feel like I read it during a period of time that I was transitioning out of middle grade and into young adult so I didn’t continue on with the series (which may have helped my recollection of the title).  I wanted to go back and read it to see if it was worth recommending and boy was it difficult for me to find.  I did manage to find a set of the series on Amazon but if you can find it at a used book store or library I would highly recommend that over using Amazon.

Now, I reread this guy and actually found myself being sucked right back into the world.  There were a number of reviews online that discussed this series as a Harry Potter wannabe and while I agree that it was originally marketed as such (I mean, look at that cover … it evokes all of the same feelings that the HP covers did).  However, I feel like having actually read it that there are very few similarities between HP and this series.  Sure, boy goes to a school because he can do magic, sounds a lot like HP but aside from that general idea, not very much in common.  However, it might be a good one to hand over to a child who has finished HP and is looking for something new, if they are interested in magic and adventure, this one definitely falls into that vein.

So what makes this story unique?  For one, the magic users are a small minority at this school, for another, the people who run the school are the villains not the good guys, plus, the main character has a very large and extended family he can rely on to support him.  Generally Charlie is not a “chosen one” for any reason other than his family is quite affluent in the society.  Outside of that, he is a rather unspectacular boy.  He is going to this school, against his wishes, and feels alienated within the school aside from a few other outcast friends who actually seem to make more sense at the school than he himself does.  There are friends who have magic, there are friends who are just incredibly talented in various forms of art.  There are characters who are conflicted within their own wants and desires, and characters who seem fairly straight forward.  In the end it is Charlie who needs saving by his classmates and not the other way around.

While I have not yet continued reading the series, just these few differences make the components of the story incredibly different and interesting in their own right.  The characters at times felt very one note, but so did the characters in the first HP book.  So that is something to take note of.  I wouldn’t write off the book yet, because I did really enjoy the plot of the book and I would hope that they become more interesting as time progresses in the story.  Most of the focus of the first book was world building and alliance making.  It had very little to do with the growth of characters, but that is common of books meant to be in a series.

The overarching plot of the series was interesting enough to make me want to continue reading without feeling like there was no resolution for the book.  The parts of the mystery of the world we did figure out were enough to feel like something was accomplished, and the plot of the book on its own was also rewarding.  It illustrated the power of the villains while also highlighting the power of teamwork and empathy rather than the true power of the main character.  The idea of this book is to explore a fantasy world where there is no singular savior which in a way I find very refreshing as even adult fantasy novels tend to rely heavily on a chosen one trope.

This is definitely a series to grab if you have a fantasy obsessed kid and one to discuss with the first HP book as a counterpoint perhaps.  It would definitely be worth while to read as an independent reading books and felt like it was appropriate for younger readers who may not be ready to continue with some of the later HP books or a book for kids who need something easier language wise but want content similar to HP.

If there are any books or series that you remember but can’t quite remember whether you loved it or what in particular was interesting then please leave a comment down below and I will try and see if I can grab a copy to discuss.  (Personally I know that I want to read Artemis Fowl because I missed out on it as a child but am open to other suggestions as well).

 

3-6, 5-7, 7-12, Books, Children

Getting a Reluctant Reader into a Book

Most folks have sent their kids back to school now that we are a decent way into September. They should be getting an idea about their homework levels.  This also means the return of struggling with their weaknesses and for some folks that’s reading.

While I understand this is completely overwhelming for parents, dealing with struggling readers was actually the favorite part of my job when I worked at the bookstore.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a good challenge to recommend books and have a child say they had already read it, but when there was a kid that was being dragged into the section to pick an outside reading book part of me got a little bit excited.

I have already made a post where I discussed some of the things to avoid when it comes to reluctant readers or struggling readers but this post is going to be the exact opposite.  This is a post for folks who are tired of the nightly battle because they outright do not want to read.

My first tip is to try audio books.  This is a really great way to meet those time limits.  My younger brother had a hard time focusing on a book for a half hour straight and then it was a struggle because he needed to spend way more time than necessary reading to compensate for the time he spent distracted.  Most audio book apps (like audible or overdrive) have a built in timer feature.  Generally it is marked as a snooze feature (thinking if you listen before bed you wouldn’t want the book to continue once you are asleep) however this is a great way to keep kids focused for their set amount of time.

The other benefit of audio books is for those kids who are actually struggling to read.  It may take them much longer to get through the book than their peers which can be frustrating and embarrassing.  It is important that they have the physical book in front of them as well so that they can associate the words they hear with the words on the page, increasing their recognition of words as a whole rather than needing to sound them out.  Audio books are purposely read very slowly and enunciated so that they are comprehensible. Kids are used to hearing the words and when sounded out they may not associate the letters they see on the page with the sounds they hear.  Over time hopefully they can read better on their own as well.  Don’t think of it as a crutch, think of it as training wheels that help boost confidence so that when they fall away, you don’t even notice that you were doing the work the whole time.

This may be a harder version of the last one, but you as a parent can also be a great assistant in reading.  You can be the narrator or you can take turns with your kids.  I made a whole post about how I love reading together even for kids who have learned to read on their own because it is a great bonding moment and your kids will be excited not only to spend time with you but to read together.

The key with this suggestion is that you need to be patient.  I realize that this is asking a lot of a parent.  You work all day, you have to worry about dinner, and housework, and bills.  The last thing you want is to spend half an hour struggling through a book that is boring.  You don’t want to do it, your kids doesn’t want to do it, so this just leads to more fighting.  In that case, spending money on an audio version might be the better option because your own reluctance to spend the time reading is going to rub off on your kid.  If you are excited about it, or if you can act excited about it then that is going to have an impact on your kids (especially the young ones who have yet to really cement the idea of what is cool or uncool).

The next option is to offer a choice.  One of the things that can be part of the struggle is the content of the book.  When a kid isn’t interested in the content of the story they will be less willing to struggle through the reading process.  This may mean that you abandon a book and get a new one.  If book reports are a necessary part of the homework assignment, realistically there is a time limit on the number of books you can abandon, but if the goal is just to get your kids reading consistently, the books themselves are less of an issue.

While it may not always be interesting to you as a parent, if there is a particular subject, character, or series that your child is interested in, there is more than likely a book featuring that.  Giving them those stories or stories similar to them will be an easy way to hook the child on the content.  It is easier to read when you want to find out what happens next.  This will facilitate learning and foster curiosity.  This may seem obvious, but many of us (especially after years of education where the choice was taken away from us) become so fixed on finishing a book that the idea of abandoning it part of the way through isn’t even on our minds any more.  Remember that this is a marathon not a sprint, the point is to help them read not to help them finish books.

Some of you may have seen my post where I talked about summer reading challenges but they apply year round.  I personally use them to help me diversify my reading.  Kids like to feel like they are progressing or spending their time in a worthwhile way.  They would rather be playing than working.  If you turn the work, into play, they will learn without even realizing it.  You don’t need to come up with your own challenges and rewards, there are plenty out there (see this pinterest board for instance).  However, you know your kids the best and will be able to tailor any challenge or game into something they will want to participate in.

This is especially helpful when there are multiple siblings.  There is nothing better than some healthy competition to get kids focused on a task.  They may not care about reading in general but if they see a sibling is earning rewards they will want some too and that will spark them to do well (even if it is a bit like reverse psychology).  This could be considered a simple reward system, but the idea is that they are willingly doing something they would normally fight over and with as little effort as necessary on your part.

This last suggestion is perhaps the easiest one and you can combine it with any of the others in a way that seems to fit your lifestyle.  The idea is simply to multitask, find a way to work the reading into your schedule so that it isn’t an additional task, but just part of something they prefer doing. If you are a parent on the go then perhaps playing on audio book in the car as you travel between oboe lessons and dance class will meet the requirements of reading without taking additional time.  Perhaps your kids have a hard time sitting still for that long, break out the coloring books and read aloud to them while the visual parts of their brain are occupied.  Perhaps, you make reading part of your nightly routine and each of you take up a part of the story, Dad reads while everyone else brushes their teeth, Mom reads while the dishes are being washed and the table cleared, the kid reads the last bit once they are tucked in and they know that once they are done they can go to bed and most of the work has already been done for them.

There are endless possibilities here, but if the reading is part of the routine, or part of another obligatory task then it stops being its own struggle and becomes an enjoyable way to pass the time.

These are just a handful of suggestions and I am sure that there are parents out there who can attest to or add their own tips and tricks in the comments below if they so choose.  I would love to hear from teachers or librarians as well for their go to methods of promoting reading!  If you have any questions or have a suggestion for another post that I can do on this topic do let me know as well.  I am planning to create lists of books that are great to read for both parents and kids (that way you are excited to read with them rather than dreading the endless stories about pony girls who turned into real girls and are going to have a slumber party… unless you are into that).

5-7, 7-12, Books, Children

Somewhere Among by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu Review

It was not until I was a fair way into this book that I realized how many things it was attempting to do, and only upon finishing it did I understand its mastery.

Title: Somewhere Among
Author: Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Page #: 448
Genre: Middlegrade, Historical Fiction, Poetry

This is a story about an 11 year old girl with a Japanese father and an American mother.  Her mother is currently pregnant with a new little sibling, after suffering several miscarriages, and is sickly.  Ema must accompany her mother to her grandparent’s house in the Japanese countryside.  She doesn’t want to leave her friends, she doesn’t want to miss her annual vacation to visit her mother’s parents in America, she doesn’t want to have to go to a new school where she will become a spectacle, but she does, because she wants this baby.  This is her story coming to terms with the good and the bad in life, with sacrifice, valor, and selfishness.  It was beautiful.

The thing that really caught me off guard about this one, and subsequently made me buy it, was the fact that it is written in verse.  Aside from some good ol’ Shel Silverstene, Robert Frost, or Emily Dickinson selections poetry aimed at kids is a little hard to come by.  Creating a narrative through poetry sounded like a great way to introduce a lot of modern poetry to kids.  Slam poetry, urban poetry, rap, all have the potential for narrative and they are growing ever popular.  I wanted to see if this was done well, if the form would enhance the story, or if it was just a gimmick.  I am glad to say it blew me away, rather than let me down.

The second thing that hit me was just how this is a piece with so many interlocking pieces: from what it is like to be biracial, what it is like to grow up in Japan, what it is like to become an older sibling for the first time, what it is like to worry about a parent’s health, what it is like to hear about something as major as the 9/11 attacks.  It was slowly rotating and focusing on all of these things and none of them felt forgotten or lesser.  I think part of this is due to the minimalist nature of verse. When writing in verse you can’t spend too much time with any one thing, less the poems become erratic or unhinged.  There is astounding balance in this book.  For every point there is a counterpoint, and rather than clashing, they exist harmoniously with each other.  This, is for sure, a sign of the author’s talent.

The last thing I want to touch on  I didn’t realize was a part of the book until I saw some of the headings.  (Careful consideration of the cover might have clued me in, but I didn’t look too deeply into it). I had the revelation while reading this book, that the children who would read it were not born before 9/11.  Part of what Annie does in this book is attempt to capture the horror of a terror attack.  This is perhaps one of the most important thing in this book, .  She compares 9/11  to the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and boy did I love it. It showed not just the immediate reaction to something so detrimental but the long term effects.  Aside from her own experience raising biracial children in Japan she was able to set this book in a way that perfectly explained terrorism and what it does, immediately and for years to come.  It helped build empathy, and teach forgiveness; the characters in the book know what it is like to live through an event like this and their empathy for the very country who perpetrated the acts of terror that shocked them is ground breaking.  It is important that these two are linked.  Just as Ema struggles with conflicting emotions, she sees something that brings everyone together and ironically it is the same thing that tears them apart: FEAR.

This book was incredibly well written, delicately plotted, extremely poignant and just all around wonderful.  I read it in one sitting (once you really get into it, reading verse is like being carried along on a song).  If you have a kid that loves to read, likes historical novels, wants to learn about living through 9/11, likes Japanese culture, any or all of the above?  Grab this guy.  It would make an interesting independent reading book as it raises many questions and dichotomies to be discussed in an essay.  It is just good stuff.  Highly recommended.

(Sorry I was absent for a month, been dealing with some rough stuff in the real world.  This was one of the many books I read on my hiatus and hopefully I can keep doing this at least semi-regularly for the foreseeable future.)