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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Blogger Review – Mercy (age 10): A Series of Unfortunate Events

In my opinion, A Series of Unfortunate Events is a really good series. Lemony Snicket did a very good job on these books. You may have heard of them. If you haven’t read the books, I recommend reading them.

The main characters are Violet, Klaus, Sunny, and Count Olaf. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are the Baudelaire siblings. Count Olaf is the villain in the books and is always chasing the siblings around in order to get their fortune. The question is, can the Baudelaire siblings use their special abilities to not get put into Count Olaf’s clutches?

Although all the books are good, there are a couple that seem to drag on; but you should stick with them because they play parts in some of the later books. Don’t stop because you think that the books get worse because the last four books are the best.

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My favorite books are books 10, 11, 12, and 13. Book 10 is called The Slippery Slope, book 11 is called The Grim Grotto, book 12 is called The Penultimate Peril and book 13 is called The End. I like book 10 because Sunny learns a new skill and passes out of babyhood. Also the Baudelaire siblings learn about a secret organization. I enjoyed book 11 because they meet a girl and her stepfather. They go into a grim grotto to find something and then they have to save Sunny. But I won’t tell you how because then I would spoil the suspense of it. So if you want to find out, you will have to read the series. Book 12 was good because they meet up with characters they met previously. They go to a hotel and have to solve problems for people at the hotel. Finally, book 13, my personal favorite, was a good book because they meet up with a friend from the hotel and have to solve problems on the island that they get ship wrecked on.

*Warning! Warning! Warning!* These stories are not as happy as other books and good things don’t happen as often as in some other books, but they are still really good. Therefore, I really suggest reading A Series of Unfortunate Events. They are amazing books, and very well written. Thank you, Lemony Snicket.

 

Trusted Favorites: Patricia Polacco

When you come across a children’s literature author with over 50 books to her credit, you expect that the author writes serialized books, the likes of Curious George, Franklin, and Berenstain Bears. You expect a few of the books to lack the luster of the others. You expect to tire of the author’s voice. In all these ways and more, Patricia Polacco exceeds expectation. She has written well over 50 individualized books, each one desirable, thoughtful, and her style and writing are a joy to read again and again.

I was recently reminded of the gift Polacco’s writing is to children’s literature when I found a book in the library by her that I had not read before. We checked it out and as soon as we got home, all sat down and read Mr. Lincoln’s Way. Although written sixteen years ago, Mr. Lincoln’s Way is an extremely timely and significant book. For any parent or teacher looking for tangible, sincere ways to discuss the racial tensions present in our world, this is an excellent book to start with. By the end, many of us were in tears (myself included) and we were all silent for several minutes after the book was finished. A reaction I have come to expect from a Patricia Polacco book.

Her stories are steeped in the muck and mire of harsh realities, realities she does not back away from. Instead, she writes a path of hope, unity, and acceptance right through the muck. At the end of her books, you will find yourself deep in thought: thinking about the nuanced difficulties of our world, thinking about your part in creating or abating those difficulties, and thinking about how grateful you are that someone gives voice to these issues in a way that communicates to children and adults alike.

My personal favorites from the Patricia Polacco collection are John Philip Duck, The Bee Tree, The Lemonade Club, Thank you, Mr. Falker, and now Mr. Lincoln’s Way. As soon as I am back at the library, I will be checking out Pink and Say to read next. With so many excellent books to her name, every reader’s favorites list will differ and I would love to hear what yours would include.

 

 

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Representation Matters

Olympic swimming is one of the most popular events to watch. This week, here in the United States, we sat around our screens enthralled by Simone Manuel and her amazing talent in the pool. But her comments out of the pool that have been even more inspiring. After winning her first individual gold medal and becoming the first African American woman to do so, she said

“It means a lot, I mean, this medal is not just for me. It’s for a whole bunch of people who have came before me and have been an inspiration to me…and for all the people after me who believe they can’t do it and I just want to be an inspiration to others that you can do it.”

Representation matters.

It matters for athletes, it matters for scientists, it matters for voters, and it matters for students. To be inspired to dream and imagine and fully immerse themselves in a story children must be able to picture themselves in that story, to be represented there. As I watch Simone Manuel capture the imagination and inspiration of so many children this summer, I am reminded how strong that need for representation is in all parts of life, including children’s literature.

Representation matters.

It matters for people of color to see themselves in the imaginary world of dragon slaying princesses and super powered heroes, or in the ordinary world of playground drama and sibling rivalry and fun-loving adventure. It matters for white kids to see all of their fellow students, teammates, and neighbors represented equally in the literary world so there can be no room for exclusivity to become normative. So that even if they live in a place predominately white, they grow up connected to stories that diversify and normalize the world around them.

Representation matters. And here are some excellent places to start.

Coretta Scott King Awards – The American Library Association says:

“The awards are given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.  The award commemorates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honors his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood.”

#1000BlackGirlBooks – Marley Dias, an 11 year old girl, was frustrated that she was unable to find books with main characters that looked like her. She created the #1000BlackGirlBooks hashtag on Twitter as a way of discovering book options with protagonists that are black girls. It has been and continues to be a very successful campaign and an extremely valuable resource.

everydaydiversity.blogspot.com – I came across this excellent blog accidentally while reading deep into the comments section of a different blog and  I am thrilled to have found it. It is a blog dedicated to recommending and reviewing children’s books with people of color as the main characters. It is a fantastic site.

Ezra Jack Keats – Everyday kids doing everyday things. This is what Keats excels at writing about and showing.

Kadir Nelson – Author/illustrator extraordinaire, Nelson’s books are thoughtful, historical, and beautiful. You should read them all.

Marti Dumas – Dumas gives her readers characters that are hilarious, adventurous, and witty. Her books should be on every child’s shelf.

Jacqueline Woodson – Jacqueline Woodson gives voice to older kids with her books for middle grade and young adult students. She has won many, many, many awards for her excellent writing, including a Newberry Award for Brown Girl Dreaming.

Proactive representation. This is one way we, as adults, can cultivate children’s imagination, inspire them, and dare our children to dream . It can start with books.

Diverse representation in children's literature is vital for children of all backgrounds. Here is a guide to some excellent authors and resources that provide that diversity through books.

Guest Student Blogger: Mercy (age 9)

I have just read the first Harry Potter book, The Sorcerer’s Stone. I really liked it and this is why. The book is so interesting. I really liked it! Let me tell you why the book is so interesting.

I love it when Hagrid tells Harry that he is a wizard! Then he starts at Hogwarts, a school for wizards and witches. It is funny when Hagrid and Harry try to hatch a forbidden dragon named, Norbert, in Hagrid’s wooden hut. I also think it is interesting when Harry gets past the black fire and finds Professor Quirrell.

Harry’s friends are Ron and Hermione. My favorite thing about Ron is that he is the first one to make friends with Harry right away. My favorite part with Hermione is when she helps Ron and Harry defeat a full grown mountain troll.

I also, like the Quidditch matches where Harry got to be a Seeker and catch the Snitch. It is cool when Harry got on the Quidditch team and got the really nice broomstick as a first year, which had not happened in a century at Hogwarts. It is also fun when Harry won the House Cup for Gryffindor, his house.

My favorite character is Harry Potter. This is why, he is the most important and interesting. The story would not have been very fun without him.

Harry is a hero!

Dear America

I am taking that first step down a slippery slope. That first step is entirely avoidable but oh so satisfying. I am, in full awareness, going to write a blog post detailing books about the United States of America for the 4th of July. It is so cliche I was not going to do it and still so perfect I cannot help myself.

The logic is sound. There is a series largely about U.S. history that I want to talk about but never seem to fit in anywhere until my sister pointed out that there is an entire upcoming holiday celebrating U.S. history. Perfect.

Until the blog becomes:

  1. 5 Perfect Books for Arbor Day
  2. 10 Amazing Books for World Pancake Day
  3. 3 Fantastic Books for Wheat Day
  4. 10 Incredible Books for National Donut day
  5. 100 Million Super Books for World Chocolate Day

The slippery slope. (Also, apparently I am hungry). It is too easy but, occasionally, appropriate to connect dates and events with books about those dates and events. I will do my best to use this crutch wisely and sparingly.

To that end, let me introduce you to the Dear America series. In this historical fiction series, events are chosen from U.S., and sometimes world, history and told through the diaries of a fictional girl from that time. The stories are fascinating, challenging, and compelling. The way they are told brings history to life in a new way for kids. They are able to sympathize with and imagine the stories so much more because they are told from a child’s point of view. For your child who is interested in history, these are a must read.

There are two spinoff series from the Dear America books. First is My Name is America; the stories in this series are told through the diaries of a fictional boy. The second series, called The Royal Diaries, takes historic queens from around the world and tells their childhood stories through fictional diaries.

At the end of each book, there is a historical note. These notes give a general history lesson about life and the major events during the time the story takes place. The books are an excellent introduction to historical events and figures that have helped shaped the United States of America, for good or for ill.

 

 

New Favorites: Author Edition

You know those moments when you are reading and the way an author turns a phrase has you re-reading the sentence just to appreciate it or an author creates a character so believable that you feel like you have met an actual person (only to have  people say insane things to you like, “Christy, you do realize Sirius is a work of fiction, right?”)? Recently, I had these moments with a new-to-me author.

Marti Dumas writes in a way that connects; she connects you to words and characters and leaves you searching Amazon for everything she has ever written. Her writing style is funny, witty, thoughtful, and engaging for children and adults. She has created a character who loves ninja dancing, she has embedded Dr. Who references in her writing, and she has written a blog post titled “Be like Stephen King”. If you have not stopped reading this and started searching Amazon yet, go ahead, I’ll wait.

She has introduced the world to a fantastic character in Jaden Toussaint. I have found myself, repeatedly, reading about his adventures on my own.  Jaden is a young boy who is all about exploration, experiments, and excitement while being raised in a family of readers.  His interactions with his family are genuine and hilarious. The way Dumas describes Jaden’s problem solving process is excellent.  In an amazing turn of events, the first book about Jaden called Jaden Toussaint, The Greatest: Episode 1 The Quest for Screen Time, is free on Amazon right now. So far, there are 3 episodes about Jaden Toussaint, The Greatest.

Dumas has also written the longer chapter book, Jala and the Wolves.  Jala is a 6 year girl who is about to have an unexpected adventure.  This is a book that your children will thoroughly enjoy reading on their own, but you will find yourself inventing reasons to read it to them (despite all the boxes of silent reading they need to check off for their homework).  She also has the upcoming chapter book called, Jackie’s Dragon, and considering the author and the fact that a little girl is interacting with a dragon, I have no doubt it will be fantastic.

New Favorites

It feels unfair to the old standbys, the Corduroys, Red Wagons, Freight Trains, and Snowy Days,  to start off my book recommendations with a book I read for the first time last week. I can’t help myself, the new book is too good to be put in line.  And so I begin with a new favorite.

With it’s opening sentences, “Morris Lessmore loved words.  He loved stories. He loved books.”, I was immediately drawn to William Joyce‘s The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.  Every part of this book, the words, the illustrations, the story, even the layout of the sentences, fits together perfectly.  The cover, with the look of perplexed surprise on Morris’ face, the name “Lessmore”, the heartbreaking but peaceful plot, they are all brilliant.

The story follows Morris Lessmore through a series of events ranging from ordinary where he “writes one orderly page after another”, to devastating in which “every story has its upsets”, to magical where he meets a woman “being pulled along by a festive squadron of flying books” (I mean, really…that sentence!) until he finally finds his place in, where else but, a library.  Here he discovers that “each book was whispering and invitation to adventure.”

And what could be more true about books than that!  May your adventures begin “with the opening of a book.”