Summer Reading List: The Early Grades

Oh my goodness, I am done. Just. Done. I know that humans don’t hibernate, but we should and it should be for the month of May. Please, someone save me from my calendar. Why have I personified my calendar, you ask? Because it is alive and it hates me. Hates. Me.

I am not exaggerating when I say that every part of me wants to curl up into a ball on my corner of the couch, put on noise cancelling headphones, and read. Then read more. And cap it all off with, well yes, reading even more. I find myself struggling not to shut down due to a system overload. Now I have completed the cycle by making my calendar alive and myself the machine. See, I am done.

It should come as no surprise to you then that this list has been a struggle for me. There are so many excellent and exciting books coming out for the older kids which made last week’s post easy to write. The next post after this one will be about summer reading ideas for preschoolers and it kind of writes itself. But this one, this one is just sitting in my mind like a weight. Its getting the middle child treatment right now. That misplaced, looked over, lost in the shuffle treatment.

Here’s the thing. In the early elementary school grades, it is really just about helping kids discover their own love of reading. Which often means, they are going to be reading some stuff you definitely would not have picked off the shelf (I’m looking at you, Rainbow Fairies). That is a good thing. They are discovering their own literary interests. At this stage, whatever they are interested in reading, put in their hands (and then try not to cringe).

You may remember that a few months back I did a post about the best beginner chapter books. The books in that list are excellent for readers just starting out on the chapter book adventure. But if you have a reader who is starting to find those books a bit too easy. This list includes some books that would be good for the next level.

Sticking with the “one book for each week of summer” model, here are 11 “next level” chapter books for the early grades.

  1. Nate the Great (Marjorie Weinman Sharmat)
  2. Hank the Cowdog (John R. Erickson)
  3. The Littles (John Peterson)
  4. Mercy Watson (Kate DiCamillo)
  5. A to Z Mysteries (Ron Roy)
  6. Clementine (Sarah Pennypacker)
  7. Keena Ford (Melissa Thomson)
  8. Magic Animal Friends (Daisy Meadows)
  9. The Mouse and The Motorcycle (Beverly Cleary)
  10. Big Nate (Lincoln Peirce)
  11. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (Elena Favalli and Francesca Cavallo)

My advice to you is: get them as many of these books as you can find and then follow the old adage, “read while the child is reading.” You are right, that is not how that saying goes. But we can all agree that is how it should go.

Happy imaginary hibernation!

 

 

 

 

Summer Reading List: The Middle Grades

You can feel it in the air. You can see it in the dark circles under teachers’ eyes. You can hear it in the restless rumble of every classroom. You can smell it in the school clothes piled high on bedroom floors. Students can taste it in the school lunches that were once Pinterest worthy bento box art and are now a slice of bread and leftover Easter (who are we kidding, Valentine’s Day) candy.

Summer is coming.

Just not yet.

Right now, we are still in the throes of dark circles, restless rumbles, school clothes laundry that still will not wash itself, and school lunches no one cares about anymore (except the kids, their whining gives me the impression they still care).

Right now, the tardy slips, missed homework assignments, and the forms begging for parent participation at the 100 end of the year parties are piled up higher than all the stacks of art and school work you brought home from Open House with every intention of properly storing and preserving for posterity.

Right now, parents, teachers, and students alike are dragging each other to that glorious last day of school.

Summer is coming.

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Just not yet.

Except we don’t even care that it’s not here yet. In our minds, this school year is done. No one has energy for this school year anymore, but when thinking about summer suddenly the ideas come flooding in. You will hike, you will creatively prevent the summer brain drain, you will actively engage the children’s minds and bodies, you will read together, you will eat healthy lunches, on and on and on the list goes.

These things absolutely will happen.

Except when they don’t. Which, in my experience, usually starts around week two of the ten week break, when all (every.single.one) of your amazing, inspiring ideas are already used up. You begin to hear the first makings of the sentence that will, all too soon, be fully expressed as, “I’m bored.”

But that is a problem for another day. Today our creative minds are ready for summer. This is the sweet spot when we have the ability to think about summer with excitement and relief. And so it is the perfect time to start thinking about summer reading lists.

Let’s start with books for the middle grades because, of all the young students, they are the most ready for summer. Unless I am counting wrong, and I likely am, there are 11 weeks of summer break, so here are 11 books to get your reader started.

  1. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
  2. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
  3. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood
  4. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
  5. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
  6. The Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
  7. Wonder by R. J. Palacio
  8. Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper
  9. Pax by Sara Pennypacker
  10. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
  11. The Genius Files by Dan Gutman

If your child or student is looking for something more topical, here are a few blog posts to reference:

For those junior high age kids, I suggest giving them a rest from the plethra of dystopian love triangles and challenging them a bit. The Newberry Medal Winners list is an excellent reading list. The books are relatively short and consistently fantastic. It will be a good recalibration for your older reader.

Ah, recalibration! We all need it.

Summer is coming. Just not yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Mothers That Read

As children do, I have not given my mother enough credit. Before you start chasing me with pitchforks, let me clarify. I have given my mother credit for many things: her unconditional hospitality, her unending generosity, her unbreakable strength, her unreserved friendliness, just to name a few. But in all these long years, I have never given her credit for helping me become the reader I am today. Today seems like the perfect time to do just that.

Because my mom and I read very different styles of books, it has taken me entirely too long to realize what an avid reader my mother is. Sometime during the last few years (likely coinciding with the birth of my first child, when daughters universally become more appreciative and aware of their own mothers), I began to recognize the signs of a true book lover in my own mom. She reads. A lot. She gives books as gifts for any occasion: graduation –  you get a book, wedding – you get a book, breathing – you get a book! She gives books as gifts so much that this year she bought each of her children a book and said she wanted our Mother’s Day present to her to be reading the book. My mom has surrounded me, and now my children, with books.

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But more importantly, she read to me. At this point, my mother is laughing so hard she’s crying. Because for literal years I begged her not to read to me. I would close my door, put on my Walkman headphones (yep, I’m that old), yell, and pull all manner of shenanigans to avoid being read out loud to. But she was unrelenting, in the very best way. Anytime we were driving, it was a well established fact that out loud reading would be involved. Mobile electronic devices were the stuff of science fiction in those times, as were in-vehicle DVD players (or DVD’s at all for that matter), and individualized music listening was not an option. And so it was that we heard the majority of the Chronicles of Narnia on one mechanically challenged road trip, or almost ran out of gas in the middle of the night listening to the Count of Monte Cristo, or listened to the tales and trails of Naya Nuki while traveling through the Pacific Northwest.

And I am grateful.

It seems important to mention that she comes by this love of books naturally. Her mother was, what I unbiasedly consider, a literary genius. My grandmother was very rarely without a book within arms reach. She had the most enviable collection of books and had read them all. She could recite poems in their entirety without a second thought. She would find a way to reference or quote a book or poem in almost every conversation I ever had with her. And, again, she read to me. I remember, very clearly, her visiting us when I was in 5th grade. Every night before I went to sleep, she would pull up a chair next to my bed and read A Wrinkle in Time to me.

And I am grateful.

So to all you mothers out there reading to your own children and surrounding them with books. I see you.

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I see you exhausted mothers of tiny babies trying to keep your eyes open through The Going To Bed Book.

I see you worn out mothers of toddlers reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See for the 8,000th time to the whirlwind swirling around you.

I see you patient mothers of preschoolers reading Green Eggs and Ham, all the while being interrupted by random shouts of word recognition.

I see you mothers of elementary school age children scouring the library bookshelves for *the book* that your child cannot wait to read on their own, and still finding ways to read Charlotte’s Web out loud to them.

I see you middle grade mothers trying to keep one step ahead of your child’s reading so you can discuss the triumphs, the failures, the misery, and the joy of this stage with them through the characters you read about together.

I see you mothers of teenagers setting your children free to discover their own literary preferences, even if those preferences greatly diverge from your own, while continually reminding them that they have not out grown being read aloud to.

I see you mothers of college age “children” sending care packages always guaranteed to include at least one book to your child so far away.

I see you mothers as you become grandmothers gathering those precious little ones in your lap and starting all over again.

To you, mothers who read, we are grateful.

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My Not-Quite-Mid-Year Progress Report

My kids just came home with their progress reports. Each of their comment sections was filled with wonderful notes like, “She is a joy to teach,” “She is doing very well,” “I could not ask for a better student.” I am, of course, very proud of how well they are doing. Though, I can’t help but notice what a stark contrast they are to my progress reports. Pick a grade, any grade of mine, between 2nd and 9th and they all have a distinctly different tone from what my kids received. Think more Professor Snape’s would be comments on Harry Potter’s progress report and less McGonagall writing to Hermione. And now I have gone and compared myself to the hero of the wizarding world and my teachers to the professor who hated him (…Or did he?! That is a discussion for a different day.) So hold on for just a minute.

Former 2nd – 9th grade teachers, if by some bizarre turn of events you happen to be reading this…it wasn’t you, it was me. I know that now. You would have never guessed at the time but, my atrocious grammar aside, I became an excellent student in my later years. I eventually became a teacher with students just like my former self…because, life. Lessons learned, albeit too late for your benefit, but better late than never, right?! – Christy

Okay, thanks for waiting. It needed to be said. Back to progress reports. The point is for many consecutive years, mine were bad. Bad despite the fact that my father was one of their fellow teachers and, at my first school, my grandfather was the principal.  I received a lot of comments along the lines of, “Christy should put in more of an effort.” Or, “There is room to improve.” Or, “Christy has some difficulty staying on track.” Or, my personal favorite, “She started off better than she finished!” Well, that pretty much sums up my entire life.

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“She started off better than she finished.” Honestly, it’s like that teacher looked into my soul and saw my true potential. It’s why, now in May, one of my daughters’ lunch today consisted of a breakfast bar (whatever that is), an applesauce, and a fig newton. It’s why my children can say, “Well, for awhile we were doing our chores.” And it’s why, now not-quite-mid-year, I have read less and less books. Yep, you read that right. So apparently, I still need progress reports, given to myself, by myself, and for myself (to ensure a completely unbiased report.)

Here it is. At the end of last year, I set a goal of reading at least 52 books this year (one a week). I did not specify which kind of books, but ideally, I was thinking that the list of 52 would not include any of the children’s books I read. I naively did not believe that specification would matter. Children’s books are such fast reading and all I need is space for one of “my” books a week. No problem. And for the first couple of months it was.

But now, now I am beginning to slide. Here are some cold hard facts about my literary life at this moment:

  • I have only read eight (8!) non-children’s books so far this year.

  • Of those eight (8!), half were for my book club. Meaning, I have only read four (4!!) of my own volition.
  • I have quit reading five books. One of them not even getting past the first page.
  • I have returned ten (10!) books to the library that I never even opened once.
  • I am enjoying the book I am reading now but am averaging about two pages a day. TWO. PAGES. A. DAY.

Not-quite-mid-year progress report comments:

“Christy has shown potential for success. She needs to work hard and remain focused. I know she will enjoy the challenge of learning to finish better than she started.”

Or so help me!

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