10 Excellent Books for the New School Year

The year was 1985. My family had just moved to Nigeria, West Africa. While my parents were moving back to the country they grew up in, this was my first time there. I do not remember the move as traumatic, I remember it as exciting and right…except for school. I was terrified of starting school.

I was beginning second grade and this would be my third school in three years. My nerves were raw, my stomach roiled, and my emotions were a chaotic disaster. I could not identify it at the time but the shortness of breath, the accelerated heartbeat, and the feeling of overwhelming panic I experienced were the beginning of many years of mini-panic attacks. On paper, there was no reason for my visceral reaction to the start of school. My teacher was the kindest, most gentle teacher at the school. My classmates were accepting and fun. My environment was adventurous and freeing. But my emotions did not care. I was held hostage by fear, panic, and worry.

Over the years, I learned ways to subdue those waves of emotional struggle. But they never fully abated on each and every first day of school. Even through college I would walk through my schedule the week before school started just so I knew exactly where I was supposed to be at each point.

If at this point you are feeling the need to set up a GoFundMe page for my therapy, don’t worry. I am okay. See. I was a happy child. (Or maybe I am just working on perfecting my side eye. Just kidding, I was happy.) I went on to become a teacher. In a school. That shows progress, right?!

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The beginning of school invokes a visceral reaction in all of us. My own school age children are evidence of this, one is thrilled, counting down the hours, one is in denial, one is nervous and worried.

No matter which kind of school you attended, we all understand the nerves, the excitement, the apprehension, the “no, I don’t want to’s” that come with the beginning of each school year. As with all things in life, there are books to help with that. (Yes, you are right, I did already do a back to school list last year. These will be different books, I promise.)

What Do You Do With a Problem (Kobi Yamada) – This is one of my favorite new picture books. It gives an excellent analogy about resilience and problem solving even when you feel unable. This book would be perfect for the child feeling overwhelmed by the thought of starting school.

I’m Smart (Kate McMullan) – Following in the great tradition of the other “I’m…” books, I’m Smart introduces us to the school bus and the excitement involved in getting children to school.

K is for Kindergarten (Erin Dealy) – Not only is this a fantastic alphabet book about going to school, it also includes very cute ideas in the margins.

School’s First Day of School (Adam Rex) – We have all experienced the first day of school as children, but what does the first day of school feel like to the school building?

How To Get Your Teacher Ready (Jean Reagan) – This book is by the same author of the How to Babysit a Grandpa/Grandma books. It is a very funny story about the beginning of school.

Llama, Llama Misses Mama (Anna Dewdney) – Sometimes even when your fifth grader is happily sprinting off to her classroom, she needs to be reminded that it’s okay to miss her mama! (Not that I would know!)

Milk Goes to School (Terry Border) – Milk has a rude awakening when she gets to school and realizes that not everyone thinks she’s the creme de la creme her parents have told her she is. Everyone needs a little comic relief to calm those jittery nerves.

The Name Jar (Yangsook Choi) – This a is beautiful, important story of acceptance, learning about each other, and creating a welcoming classroom environment.

My Name is Maria Isabel (Alma Flor Ada) – Names matter. As teachers, we have to be careful to honor the importance of  a name.

The Hundred Dresses (Eleanor Estes) – This is an excellent book about bullying and the power of standing up for one another.

I will just be over here taking deep breaths and practicing every relaxation technique I know while I live, vicariously, through yet another first day of school. May all of their first days be filled with joy, acceptance, and a renewed love of learning.

 

 

26 Mysteries for the Budding Detective

Literary detectives. Literary detectives are the absolute coolest. They get the long trench coat, the hat, the flip style notepad, the pencil, and all the swagger. They research, inspect, follow leads, evade red herrings, think, rethink, ask questions, exhaust all theories, and ultimately find answers. They captivate the imagination and set loose the possibilities.

Since the day I held my first blue and yellow book and read about a girl named Nancy Drew, I have been drawn to stories of mystery and intrigue. Whether about her, or a couple of brothers with the last name Hardy, or a group of orphaned siblings who occasionally have a boxcar for a home, or the moustached Hercule Poirot, or the honorable Lord Peter Wimsey, or the bumbling Inspector Jacques Clouseau, or the fantastic Precious Ramotswe, or the quintessential Sherlock Holmes; there are few things more satisfying and thoroughly entertaining than solving a mystery alongside these excellent literary sleuths.

Stories of mysterious adventures are great fun, not only for the individual reader, but also for the whole family or classroom to enjoy together. Many a childhood road trip has been passed with my family listening to mysteries. On one memorable trip, we went through a Sherlock Holmes phase. To this day, my sisters and I will quote bits from The Hound of the Baskervilles, which was our favorite of the audiobooks.

If your child or student is looking for some light, fun summer reading, look no further. Below are some mysterious tales sure to get their inquisitive minds racing.

Picture Books

Early Chapter Books

Middle Grade Chapter Books

Now, if only someone could help me solve these mysteries:

  1. How did the couch get wet? (It could be water, right?!)
  2. Why does my Netflix account now load up the “Kids” account, when I *know* I was the last one to watch anything? (My 1234 password is AIR.TIGHT.)
  3. What happened to my copy of The Westing Game? (I distinctly remember having it in 2002.)
  4. How did glitter get on my toothbrush? (Please tell me it is just from someone’s sparkly lip gloss!)
  5. What will I find at the end of this trail of chocolate chips? (A pot of gold, surely!)

Summer Reading List: Preschool Edition

Just like that, May is gone. June finally arrived and all is well in the world. (Except that some things are exactly the same, like getting woken up at 4:30 AM by the recent Kindergarten graduate because her finger stings.) In a stroke of genius, my girls’ school scheduled their last day of school today. June could not be off to a better start. A few short hours from now, my kids will all be out of school. We can catch our collective breath and rest.

My son, the one child not even in school yet, may be the most excited about school getting out. He has been home alone with me all year and he is beyond ready for his sisters to be back home. He has visions of playing Candyland and being read to all day dancing in his head. During this last week of school, he has sat through three end of the year parties, one school performance, and one Kindergarten graduation. At each event, he brings his little bag full of books and patiently starts to read.

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It goes like this: tap book on me, tap book on me harder, tap book on me even harder, include “read to me, Mom,” repeat only louder, and louder still. I *calmly* say, “You need to read to yourself right now.” A child at the end of the school party interrupts, “Mrs. Peterson, can you start the game.” My son, ignoring that interruption, says, “I don’t know how to read.” I hurriedly say, “Just look at the pictures, you have this book memorized anyway.” Then, apologetically, start whichever game I am stationed at for that moment.  My son looks at one page and then begins the process over again. If all of that can be considered “patiently starting to read” then yeah, we’ve got that down.

All of this to say, while the older kids have dreams of the books they want to read over the summer, the youngest one does too. And so here are 11 books for your preschooler to look forward to this summer.

  1. Dragons Love Tacos 2 (Adam Rubin)
  2. The Day The Crayons Came Home (Drew Daywalt)
  3. Tap the Magic Tree (Christie Matheson)
  4. Animals By The Numbers (Steve Jenkins)
  5. Dino-Swimming (Lisa Wheeler)
  6. Ada Twist, Scientist (Andrea Beaty)
  7. The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors (Drew Daywalt)
  8. Ladybug Girl’s Day Out with Grandpa (David Soman)
  9. No Matter What (Debi Gliori)
  10. How to Raise A Mom (Jean Reagan)
  11. Hattie and Hudson (Chris Van Dusen)

You can find other lists of picture books here:

Happy Summer! May your preschooler handle their “read to me” demands with patience and calmness. (Hey, it’s summer now, a person can dream!)

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Girls Do Big Things Too: Part 2

As I have embarked on my self-appointed mission to find books about “girls doing big things,” I have realized several things:

  1. Defining “big things” is difficult and not uniform.
  2. There are many excellent books about strong, brave, adventurous, intelligent girls that share their story with male characters and are being left off my list. It feels unfair.
  3. There are a lot of very good books about girls doing everyday things that are also being intentionally left off my list (I’m looking at you, Anne of Green Gables). Not including them is much more difficult than I imagined.
  4. There is a shocking disparity in the number of stories being told about black and brown girls. Additionally, when a story can be found, it is most often either a survival story or historical fiction. Now, don’t get me wrong, these stories are important, very important. But where are the stories about black and brown girls having imaginative adventures, storming the castle, or solving a mystery. We need more.
  5.  I love blogging about books. One of the things I love most is getting so many fantastic suggestions from you. It is fun. And I must say, you are a very well read bunch!

Without further ado, here are the reader recommendations I received:

It should also be noted that non-fiction biographies provide excellent stories of girls and women doing big things. Women such as Helen Keller, Harriet Tubman, Marie Curie, Corrie ten Boom, Ann Frank, and Sacajawea give our girls real life guides to bravery, persistence, and strength.

Additionally, I highly recommend the historical fiction series, Dear America, for stories of young girls overcoming great odds. Common Sense Media has an excellent list of Books with Strong Female Characters. Mighty Girls also has a list of books for Smart, Confident, Courageous Girls.

Book choice matters. It is not simply that girls need to see themselves in books, but they need to see themselves “doing big things too.” Let us continue to lead them to just those books.

Girls Do Big Things Too: Part 1

Recently, I had one of those conversations that stopped me instantly. You know the kind. The kind where the words you are hearing require you to look up from your phone (yes, I do sometimes “listen” while looking at my phone…it’s just the sad truth), look away from the computer (again, yes), or look up from your book (don’t judge on this one, you know that it is completely justifiable to “listen” while reading…it is a finely honed art). The kind of conversation that starts off innocuous and routine, then as words sink in you realize this conversation has weight and depth. It will not be brushed aside or made to wait. It demands attention and now. And so you stop, you look up, you listen, and you hope to know how to answer.

Here is how this particular scenario unfolded:

During a conversation with her teacher, my ten-year-old daughter pointed out that in each of the stories they had read in class the female character’s role was to be rescued, usually by a prince and even once by a dragon.
Apparently, this led to a good conversation about book choice.
After she told me her story, she said, “I just wish we could read books where girls did big things too.”

At this point I would love to tell you that my first thoughts were of how proud I was of her for speaking up about what she noticed and how sad I was for her that this is the reality in literature. Unfortunately, my first, unspoken thoughts were entirely selfish, something along the lines of, “Your house is full of books about girls doing big things.” As a book blogger, I am absolutely providing my daughters with a plethora of books featuring girls doing big things, right?! I had an embarrassing moment of righteous indignation.

And then I looked up. I saw my ten-year-old daughter asking for books about girls doing big things in front of a bookshelf overflowing with books. I tamped down my heated defenses and paused. Thankfully, at this point a measure of common sense returned and I realized this moment was not about me, my pride, or my ability to provide the “right” books for my girls. This moment was about her. It was about her ability to voice her observations and ask that we do better. It was about giving her disappointment space to exist. It was about finding what she was looking for.

A few days before this conversation, a video by Rebel Girls went viral. In the must-see clip, a mother and daughter are searching their bookshelf looking for books with girls doing big things. After watching the video with my daughter, we decided to do a little experiment of our own.

Inspired by the video, we decided to take out every book on our bookshelves that featured a human female as the main character, who had speaking parts, and did something inspirational, exciting, or adventurous. For the purposes of this experiment, we did not include stories about animals, automatically excluding the likes of Charlotte (Charlotte’s Web), or stories where the female main character shares the lime light with her fellow male counterparts, automatically excluding the likes of Hermione (Harry Potter), Annie (Magic Tree House) and Susan and Lucy (The Chronicles of Narnia), among many beloved others. While these characters and stories are fantastic, necessary, and helpful, we were looking specifically for books where the girl is the sole protagonist.

Our findings were shocking. First, we learned that the kids have 799 books! (Maybe there is something to my husband’s argument that we have “enough” books…maybe.) Of those 799 books, there were only 26!!!!, yes 26, that fit our criteria. I expected the number to be low, but nowhere near that low. Even more troubling is that of those 26, only 7 of those books have a female protagonist of color. These are devastating numbers.

Here are the 26 we found:

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  1. My Name is not Isabella (Jennifer Fosberry)
  2. 11Experiments That Failed (Jenny Offill)
  3. Strega Nona (Tomie dePaolo)
  4. With the Might of Angels (Andrea Davis Pinkney)
  5. One Eye Laughing, the Other Eye Weeping (Barry Denenberg)
  6. Sondok (Sherri Holman)
  7. A Picture of Freedom (Patricia C McKissack)
  8. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (Avi)
  9. Dealing with Dragons (Patricia Wrede)
  10. Searching for Dragons (Patricia Wrede)
  11. Talking to Dragons (Patricia Wrede)
  12. Harriet the Spy (Louise Fitzhugh)
  13. Caddie Woodlawn (Carol Ryrie Brink)
  14. A Little Princess (Francis Hodgson Burnett)
  15. Mouseford Academy: Lights, Camera, Action (Thea Stilton) We made one exception to the “human female” rule because my eight-year-old daughter wanted to add one of her favorites, and so a mouse is included.
  16. Ella Enchanted (Gail Carson Levine)
  17. Julie of the Wolves (Jean Craighead George)
  18. Because of Winn-Dixie (Kate DiCamillo)
  19. Hidden Figures (Margot Lee Shetterly)
  20. Women in Space (Carole S Briggs)
  21. Boo’s Dinosaur (Betsy Byars)
  22. Walk Two Moons (Sharon Creech)
  23. Pippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren)
  24. Spy-in-Training (Bridget Wilder)
  25. Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O’Dell)
  26. *Not Pictured* –  The Paperbag Princess (Robert Munsch) This book was “unfindable” while we were counting and I am too lazy to retake the picture now that it has been found.

While these 26 books are excellent, they are not enough. Thus, the upcoming Part 2.

I am on a mission to find more books of this nature. If you have books to add to the list, please let me know.

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Here Be Dragons

Dragons are among the coolest probably-fictional creatures ever created. The fire-breathing, the flying, the caves, the tumultuous relationships with humans, the treasure; it is all together captivating.

For a time, dragons were the gold standard in fantasy fiction. The folk-lore surrounding dragons is arguably greater than any other probably-fictional character. J.R.R. Tolkien, the “father of modern fantasy” once said that he “desired dragons with a profound desire.” It showed in his writing. His writing was and is positively infectious. It would be impossible to count the books written with dragons before or since.

While some have said that the “overabundance” (as if there could be) of dragons in the genre has turned them into a cliché, I say if there is a shred of truth to this accusation it is only that humans have become cliché in their portrayal of these majestic creatures. For on their own, dragons and their stories are limitless in their diversity, versatility, and creativity. From Puff the Magic Dragon, to Smaug; Elliot to Drogon; Toothless to Temeraire; Falkor to St. George’s dragon; the range of characters represented is anything but predictable and tired.

If you have been wondering how to introduce your children or students to the wide-eyed thrill of dragon-lore, then you have come to the right place. There are books for every age.

Board Books:

That’s Not My Dragon (Fiona Watt) – This book is the perfect baby shower or bringing-baby-home gift. It is guaranteed to please children and parents alike.

Picture Books:

The Paper Bag Princess (Robert Munsch) – The classic tale told in this brilliant book was genre shifting upon its release. It was among the first stories told, and arguably the most famous, about a princess not only saving herself but rescuing a wayward prince in the process. It belongs in every classroom and in every home.

The Egg (M.P. Robertson) – This is the first book in an excellent series of picture books about a boy named George and a dragon he raises. The other books that follow are: The Secret Dragon Rescue and The Dragon Snatcher. I highly recommend these books.

Dragons Loves Tacos (Adam Rubin) – Dragons Loves Tacos has been a hit with children and adults for the past five years. It is hilarious, creative, and combines two of the best things our world has to offer…dragons and tacos!

When a Dragon Moves In (Jodie Moore) – My younger two children love this book. I cannot tell you how many times we have checked it out. They are freshly excited each time. It is a funny story of imagination and the typical familial response to such imagination.

Puff the Magic Dragon (Peter Yarrow) – We all know the song by Peter, Paul, and Mary. Now your children can look at fantastic illustrations while you sing. I dare you to try to read the book rather than sing it. I am convinced it is impossible.

The Knight and The Dragon (Tomie dePaola) – This is an excellent book for those children who are not yet reading. The story is cute and clever, but it is the illustrations that make the book. Tomie dePaola does not disappoint.

Early Chapter Books:

My Father’s Dragon (Ruth Stiles Gannett) – The Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon can now be read altogether in the same book. I recently read this to my younger kids, who loved the story and would beg me to read more. When I was reading to them, I would look up to find the older two suddenly close by and paying full attention. This is an American classic for a reason.

The Snow Dragon (Marti Dumas) – This is a fantastic story that combines the reality of moving and finding a new home with the magical, in the form of a dragon. As you may already know, I am a very big fan of Marti Dumas’ writing and this is yet another example of why.

Middle Grades:

The Dragon in the Sock Drawer (Kate Kilmo) – This is the first book in a six book series called the Dragon Keepers. It is a great book for your second or third grade reader. The books are suspenseful and entertaining, but not scary or dark. These would also make very good read alouds for kids of different age ranges.

How to Train Your Dragon (Cressida Cowell) – The How to Train Your Dragon twelve book series has inspired multiple movies and TV spinoffs and for good reason. These books are so fun. They combine adventure, hijinks, dragons, humor, friendship, and life lessons.

A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Keeping of Humans (Laurence Yep) – Who knew dragons were so funny?! This perspective changing book gives literal voice to a frustrated dragon trying to figure out how to care for its pet human. My daughter laughed out loud through most of this book.

The Last Dragon Chronicles (Chris D’Lacey) – This wildly popular series starts off a bit slow on the dragon front. The first book, The Fire Within, spends a lot of time on a squirrel. Be patient, dragons are coming. This is a good series for your young advanced reader.

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (Patricia Wrede) – A princess voluntarily choosing to go live with dragons, while turning away every prince who attempts to “rescue” her, what could be better? This series is an absolute must read.

Dragon Slippers (Jessica Day George) – This three book series follows Creel, a misunderstood, underappreciated teenage girl, who finds her confidence in the company of some misunderstood dragons. This unlikely heroine makes for a surprisingly relatable fantasy. There are moments of mild, innocent flirting throughout the story. While it is innocuous enough, it is probably better suited for older elementary school age kids. I would not recommend this series for kids “reading up.”

The Neverending Story (Michael Ende) – I will be honest, it was not until embarrassingly late in life that I knew there was a book behind the movie. The movie is perfection and may be the only example of a movie that outshines the book. But the book deserves its due as well. Ende introduced many of us of a certain generation (ahem) to our favorite childhood dragon, Falkor. And for that gift, we owe him a great deal of gratitude. Read the book and then, by all means and with no delay…watch the movie!

Wings of Fire series (Tui T. Sutherland) – These books are fascinating. They are narrated by dragons and are almost exclusively about dragons. All the elements of world building and fantasy fiction are present, just with dragons as the main (and, for the most part, only) characters. My guess is your kids will fly (pun intended) through them.

Young Adult:

The Inheritance Cycle series (Christopher Paolini) – This series has won the hearts of many readers. If you are looking for dragons, adventure, and fantasy, you will find those here. There is a major romance that runs through the series, just by way of forewarning.

The Hero and The Crown (Robin McKinley) – I actually enjoyed this Newberry Medal winning story a great deal. I have a great appreciation for a hard-done-by female protagonist who can kick some dragon tail. However, the innuendo is strong throughout the book, to the point where I am not sure what age to recommend this for. It is not so obvious that it should only be for high school, but it is prevalent enough that it may not be great for some junior highers. I suggest parents and teachers read this one first. You will enjoy the read and then you can determine your comfort level for your children.

Now, go slay your dragons, or befriend them…whichever suits your fancy.

 

Fantasy Fiction for Kids

You would not know it from looking at the list of books I have read mostly recently, but the fantasy genre is my favorite. I am thoroughly intrigued by the world building, the scope of the stories, and the depth of the characters. The creativity involved in writing fantasy fiction is fascinating and enviable.

For whatever reason, I was not exposed to much fantasy fiction growing up. It was not until my early 20’s when J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time entered my life, that I discovered the genre that would take my appreciation for the written word from “I like you a lot” to “You are my soul mate, never leave my side.” Since my first encounters with the worlds of Hogwarts and the Westlands, I have spent countless hours lost in Westeros (George R.R. Martin’s Songs of Fire and Ice),  the Four Corners of Civilization (Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles), and the Underdark of Faerun (R.A. Salvatore’s Dark Elf Trilogy), among many others. Not all of those lost hours have been while reading, I have to admit. Fantasy fiction has a way of captivating your attention. Excellent fantasy fiction can hold that attention long after the book has been put down.

I remember many school days when this escape and distraction would have been very helpful. This, coupled with the fact that my oldest daughter seems to have inherited my inclination towards the fantasy genre, got me thinking about what fantasy fiction books there are available for kids.

You should be forewarned, Harry Potter will not be included in this list. The reason being that it goes without saying (or writing) that the Harry Potter books should be read. We all know this. What we need to know is what else there is after those phenomenal seven books have stolen our hearts.

Traditional Fantasy:

The Phantom Tollbooth (Norton Juster) – This fantastic piece of literature is the perfect introduction into fantasy fiction. The jokes may go over the younger kids’ heads the first time around but that just makes it an ideal re-read for them. Whether they get it fully or not, you will laugh out loud in every chapter.

The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis) – These books need no introduction. While The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe gets all the attention, make sure your children read them all. They are all excellent.

The Wingfeather Saga (Andrew Peterson) – Don’t let the titles deter you from these books. It took me a long time to get over the title On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness before finally letting my oldest daughter read the book. She could not put it down and has thoroughly enjoyed the series.

The Ranger’s Apprentice  (John Flanagan) – I’ll be perfectly honest, I read these books because I heard them mentioned in passing and wanted to see if they would be good for my kids and then I never put them down. These books have all the elements of good fantasy fiction. There are moments of flirtation and the beginnings of boy/girl relationships, but it is all very innocent and not a main story line. Fair warning for your young advanced readers.

The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien) – If you have been reading this blog or following along on social media, then you already know my feelings about this particular book. However, like it or not, it is a British classic and a remarkable (yes, I said it) example of fantasy writing.

The Chronicles of Prydain (Lloyd Alexander) – I have not read these books yet, but they have been highly recommended to me over and over again by people whose opinions I trust with my reading list. This series is next on my list to read.

 

Animal Fantasy

The Green Ember (S.D. Smith) – The Green Ember, its sequel Ember Falls, and its prequel The Black Star of Kingston are very entertaining books that follow the lives of a few very brave rabbits. These books make excellent read alouds.

Gregor the Overlander (Suzanne Collins) – Suzanne Collins’ (of Hunger Games fame) Underland Chronicles is an example of the fact that fantasy does not need to be watered down when written for children. This series is a must read.

Warriors (Erin Hunter) – If you have been in a place where books of any kind are collected in any number, then you have seen a Warriors book. They are the ones with the cats on the cover. Yes, those ones. There seem to be an unlimited number of them. Here’s the deal, I have never read them (because I am completely guilty of judging books by their cover in this case). But every single elementary school age girl I know has read them and loved them. That is good enough to get my recommendation.

Guardians of Ga’Hoole (Kathryn Lasky) – At the risk of sounding negligent…this is another series highly recommended that, you guessed it, I have not read. Don’t worry I promise to not make a habit of recommending books I haven’t read. These owls have inspired many conversations I have been a part of and I look forward to being able to add my two cents soon.

Redwall (Brian Jacques) –

It was the start of the Summer of the Late Rose. Mossflower country shimmered gently in a peaceful haze, bathing delicately at each dew-laden dawn, blossoming through high sunny noontides, languishing in each crimson-tinted twilight that heralded the soft darkness of June nights.

And that is just the prologue. This is a master’s class is writing. You will never regret reading these books or having your children read them.

Maybe you noticed that a staple of the fantasy genre is missing from this list, never fear, the dragons have not been forgotten. Dragons are coming soon!

Children’s Books for Black History Month

Marcus Garvey once said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.”

It could be said that the more painful the history, the more vital the knowledge of it so there can be no chance of ignorant repetition. The national history of the United States is undoubtedly painful. With this in mind, education is paramount.

We frequently use #NeverForget to deepen our roots with the knowledge of painful history, as in the case of the Holocaust, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11 and with good reason. We need to extend that same urgency of remembrance to the slave trade, the institution of slavery and the Jim Crow era. We must never forget. We must learn from our historical mistakes. These remembrances should be at the forefront of our collective consciousness as we seek to reconcile the sins of the past with the dreams of the future.

For the dreams of the future to reach actualization, we need to teach our children about the strength, the courage, and the struggle of the people that made up the abolitionist and Civil Rights movements. We have much to learn from their stories and their individual and collective examples.

  1. Give Me Wings: How a Choir of Slaves Took on the World by Kathy Lowinger
  2. Hero Two Doors Down by Sharon Robinson
  3. Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Lynda Blackmon Lowery
  4. Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford
  5. With the Might of Angels: The Diary of Dawnie Rae Johnson, Hadley, Virginia, 1954 by Andrea Davis Pinkney
  6. 28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World by Charles R Smith Jr
  7. Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
  8. Heart and Soul: The Story Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson
  9. March: Book One, Two, and Three by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
  10. Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford

But there is much more to Black History Month. All too often we never get past the stories from slavery, the Jim Crow era, and the Civil Rights Movement. These understandably get the bulk of our historical attention, but it leaves us with an incomplete view. That complete view includes generations of seldom mentioned inventions, contributions, and discoveries made by African Americans. We must reclaim these histories and remember their names. Here is an excellent list to help us bring their names to the forefront of United States’ history.

We must never forget what was. We must reclaim what was left out. And we must remember that representation matters, not only historically, but also in our everyday life.