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.)


Adult, Books, Children, Musings

Ladies and Gentlemen, I Present: Summer Reading Challenges

I wanted this post to be more than just a link to a Pinterest board I have been curating for a while now, so I figured I would give the link:


as well as talk a bit about why I enjoy reading challenges.

For the past two years I have participated in a year long reading challenge, I figured now would be a good time to post this (rather than waiting until December or January) because I know that some parents struggle with getting their kids to read over the summer.

My answer to this: Gameify that.

Gameify is not a word.  What I’m saying is that if you make reading into a game, kids will be more motivated to do it, I know I am.

I went to Pinterest and looked at some of the challenges that teachers and parents have built, I encourage you to make your own based on themes, or genres, or your own kids interests.  It can be self motivated, or a competition.  The point of the challenge is not to be a homework assignment.  You aren’t forcing them to write an essay at the end of the summer, you are just trying to get them to read as much, or as widely as possible.

I chose pop sugar as my yearly reading challenge because I felt it had the most interesting selection of challenges.  They felt more varied and open to interpretation.  Sure a challenge such as “Read and Espionage Thriller” is pretty straight forward but “Read a book set in a hotel” or “read a book with a cat on the cover” were very interesting challenges for me.  It made the challenge fun, and helped me read outside of my comfort zone.  I was a wide reader to begin with, but this helped me think about what I was reading in a bigger perspective as well as pick up books that I may otherwise pass by.  I found great books that I loved this way.  I recommend you try as well, with or without your kids.

This was a super short and sweet post but I wanted to put it out there.

Reading is fun, let’s make it even better!

Books, Children, Musings

Reading Together: A Lifetime of Stories

One of the, I guess, tenets when it comes to reading (in general not simply when it comes to children) is that it is important to read with others.

In my adult life this takes the form of book clubs, where we all read individually then come together to talk about what we liked, disliked, felt worked, felt was horrendously done, felt was pushing boundaries, or too stuck in the tropes.  In this way, the solitary act of reading becomes communal.  Ideas that never occurred to me are brought up by people I care for and trust.  I am forced to read outside of my comfort zone consistently, to varying results, and in general have way more fun.  In fact writing or filming reviews and responding to the comments is also an aspect of this.  There is less structure involved, but it is definitely me reaching out into the void and seeing if anyone is reaching back.

So, what does this have to do with kids?

Well, I am of a firm belief that just because a child has crossed the hurdles and is reading on their own, doesn’t mean that bed time stories or story time should disappear.  I wish that more parents would continue reading books to their kids as they grow.  Here is why:

  1. It allows the parents to bring up difficult topics in a safe environment (that of you living room) in a way that distances the topic from the child.
    • The example I often give for this is that I would get parents coming in asking if there were any books for kids who were just going into middle school that would give them examples of peer pressure and bullying.  There are, and if you read those books together, it allows your child to ask you questions about the story, as well as allowing you to give your own input.  “Wasn’t the way that Suzy just stood there and let her best friend say means things about that boy a little mean?  Don’t you think she should have said something to her friend.  It made her uncomfortable and it made the other boy sad so why not tell her to stop that?”  Then you can have complex discussions about what it means to be a bystander, or how hard it is to stand up to friends, without it being about their own friends yet.
  2. It allows parents to curate books for their kids that they loved.
    • I don’t know how many parents came up to me an explained how sad they were that their kids’ weren’t reading one of their favorite books from childhood.  I suggested reading together in these instances as well.  It means that your kid will participate in the story with you, and you can talk about what it was like reading certain sections as they come up in the story.  It helps bridge the gap.  They might not be interested in reading it on their own because the covers don’t look as flashy as newer books, but they love you and I’m sure that more than 1 or 2 of you have watched a kid who was adamant against listening to a story slowly get sucked in when it is read aloud.  Give it a try, you might be surprised.
  3. It is a great reason to turn the t.v. off and stay in touch with your kids
    • I was definitely a child who wanted more than anything to sit at my computer playing video games all hours of the day and night, but books would sing their siren song and pull me away to other worlds as well.  If you make story time a family event, in the same way that television is a structured event in their lives, they will likely love it as well.  One of the things that makes T.V. so enticing is its dependable nature.  Every Thursday at 3 they know they can watch favorite characters interact and enjoy themselves.  As they grow older they may be more inclined to doing things with friends, but if you have a routine of reading on a particular night during the week, it becomes scheduled and they will log off to join you, or miss crucial aspects of the story.
  4. It improves reading comprehension and fluency.
    • Yes, reading silently will do this as well, but not all kids will sit with a dictionary at their side.  They might treat you like a living one if you read a book that is slightly more challenging for them.  You can instill good habits in this way by looking up the words, or teaching about context clues.  It will build skills that they will use for the rest of their life, not to mention build their vocabularies instantly.  Take the time, learn together.
  5. It gives you a reason to engage with your kids.
    • In the same way that you might want to share favorite books with them, they might want to share favorite books with you.  Yes, they may love something that you can’t stand, but if you read together and they tell you about everything love, excitement is infectious.  You will stop feeling like they are speaking a different language.  You will gain insight into the characters they take as role models.  You can even blow their mind with your great trivia about the books they love.  Kids want to feel appreciated and this is a very simple  way to do that.

Those are just a handful of reasons to give it a try.  I still read aloud to my friends.  I still listen to audio books.  There is something about listening to stories that is extremely basic to us as humans.  I hope that you incorporate it into your lives.  Stories are meant to be shared and I hope you enjoy sharing them.

7-12, Books, Children, YA (Young Adult)

The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz Review

Making our way through the backlist reviews, slowly but surely.  I promise that I will be posting the reviews for books I have read recently as well.  I just wanted to make sure this content was here for you all to find.

Title: The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or The Three Magical Children and Their Holy  Dog
Author: Adam Gidwitz
Illuminator: Hatem Aly
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Page #: 384
Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction