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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Library or Coffee Shop

Let’s play a little game I like to call, “Library or Coffee Shop.” The object of this game is to blatantly judge other people’s behavior and determine whether it belongs in a library or a coffee shop. I know, blatant judgement of other people’s behavior is very, very wrong. Don’t worry, this game also has an educational component (as all games must today). This educational game may be used liberally to instruct people about the differences between these two types of establishments.

There seems to be a great deal of confusion about this. The lines between the two are being blurred more and more everyday, with coffee shops adding libraries and libraries adding coffee shops. But let’s be clear, these two things Are. Not. The. Same.

Now back to the game. I will give you two pictures or scenarios and you can guess which place the pictures or scenarios belong.

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2.  Gatherings, social or otherwise, that invite audible discourse

or solitary confinement, the good kind.

3.

4.   Respectful care of books for the purpose of reading them

or staged arrangement of books for Instagram or for use as coasters (NO!).

5.

You win if you are able to clearly distinguish between the activities appropriate to a library and the very different activities appropriate to a coffee shop. Should there be any doubt, the answers can be found at the bottom of the page. Winners will receive a free copy of the newly published, Definitive Guide to Library Etiquette, written by me. (It’s really just a future blog post. Think of me as Oprah, “you get a blog post, you get a blog post, everyone gets a blog post.” See how exciting that is now!)

I will admit that there are few things on earth as soothing as a hot beverage and a book, together in the same place. Because of that, sometimes people want to read paper books at a coffee shop or drink coffee at the library. I will also admit that libraries are more and more becoming community centers, and thus places of group gatherings. Because of that, sometimes people get excited and forget to meet in the designated meeting rooms or you hear the incessant tapping of the keyboard. But for the love of anything, really, could we find a way to muster even the tiniest bit of etiquette at the library.

I realize that it is not 1883 and that we are no longer in need of “Miss Porter’s Finishing School.” I realize that it is now 2017 and we see ourselves as finished. We are beyond rules. We are free. Society cannot contain or restrain our natural inclinations or whims.  Congratulations! We figured out that there is more to human existence than a strict code of behavioral regiments. Though somehow in the process of letting our collective hair down, our wig flew off. What we have going on now is nothing short of chaotic anarchy. Well, okay, maybe it’s a lot short of chaotic anarchy (also, isn’t all anarchy chaotic…never mind) but you get the idea: coffee shop behavior taking over library decorum.

While I am usually the last person people would associate with decorum of any kind, exceptions must be made…for the perservation of the library.

 

Answer key: #1 – library, coffee shop. #2 – coffee shop, library. #3 – coffee shop, library.   #4 – library, coffee shop. #5 – library, coffee shop

 

 

 

My Daughter Hated Reading and It Was All My Fault

There are innumerable ways in which I imagine getting it all wrong with my children. I yell too much. I am too sarcastic. I am grumpy. I am inconsistent in my discipline (with myself and them). I am difficult to please. Many nights I lay awake in bed mentally creating all the ways I will inevitably fail them. I have, what I affectionately refer to as, “The Therapy Fund.” It is the imaginary vault I add pretend money to every time I do something that I KNOW will come back up with their therapist 15 years from now. Their very real future therapy is already very imaginarily funded and they are 10 years old and below. Clearly, I’ve got this parenting thing down.

Never in my wildest late night creations did I imagine that one of those parental failings would be in regard to reading. That simply is not possible.  I read, write, and dream books. And children’s books in particular. I know exactly what to do to instill a lifelong love of reading in children. I know exactly how to spur on the most reluctant reader to be a voracious reader. I know exactly which books to hand a child I have talked to inspiring him or her to find joy in the written word.

In theory, it turns out.

Because the hard, honest truth is that my very own second born hated reading. I read out loud to her. I got books from the library for her. I bought books for her. I tried it all, repeatedly. But still she would only read for homework points, never for joy. I told myself it was just a phase. But it was a phase I could not make any sense of.

Then one day a friend gave me this quote (knowing nothing of my predicament):

“There’s no such thing as a kid who hates reading. There are kids who love reading, and kids who are reading the wrong books.” – James Patterson

As I was reading it, my oldest daughter said, “Oh, that’s just like my sister.” Wait, what?! How?! She’s not reading the wrong books. She’s reading exactly the right books, the books I give her. They are excellent.

Except, and this sentence took me weeks to admit, she does not like them.

She likes fairies and princesses and fancy dresses. And I have actively steered her away from Fancy Nancy, Cinderella, and Rainbow Fairies. I know it goes against every teach-your-child-to-love-reading theory available, but there it is. I do not always practice what I preach.

And so I put my pride aside and let her decide.

She started coming home with books from the Disney Fairy Collection. I put on my best smile-through-the-pain look. But then she started going to her room to read; then reading to her siblings *out loud;* then getting her homework done faster so that she could read. She was falling in love with reading before my very eyes.

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I found myself checking out every Disney Fairy book I could find, putting them on hold from other libraries, and scouring the digital collections to see if any extra ones could be found on the Kindle, all to see that look of joy on her face. Over a book! I found myself discussing fairies and their talents, reading oh-you-have-to-read-this pages, and actively listening to long-winded recaps of her favorite parts, all to hear the excitement in her voice. Over a book!

With the spark lit by fairies, she fans her literary fire with all different kinds of books now, all of her own choosing. And then this week, she reached for a set of books I have been gently encouraging (ahem) her to read for a long time. She took The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe off the shelf!

Yesterday at Disneyland, she looked at me and said, “I wish I had brought my book!”

 

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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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.

 

Audiobooks: Maybe There’s Something There

As I write this, my mind is spinning its proverbial wheels with all the things I have to do:

  1. Deal with overflowing piles of laundry in two different rooms.
  2. Put away two laundry baskets full of clean clothes.
  3. Wash sink full of dirty dishes.
  4. Wash dishwasher full of dirty dishes.
  5. Go to the store and get soap for the dishwasher so those dishes can get washed.
  6. Fill out jog-a-thon pledge forms times three for the school fundraiser.
  7. Have weekly meeting with the husband about how to navigate the families’ various and numerous activities for the coming week.
  8. Plan meals for the week based on: precisely zero edible things in the house, times any number of the six of us will actually be in the house at the same time, the surprise, random inedible items of the week.
  9. Finish this post.
  10. Plan multiple lessons for upcoming children’s programs.
  11. Navigate two highly sensitive school situations.
  12. Respond to five emails I have been putting off.

I will spare you the rest. Like you, my life seems to be a constant cycle of never having enough time to do the things I have to do, never mind getting to the things I want to do. I have found myself increasingly frustrated with the everyday life tasks getting in the way of “my time.” “My time” is also known as reading time, preferably in an atmosphere of total silence. You can see why there are multiple layers of frustration, since time and silence are as far from me as Hogwarts (the real one, not the Universal Studios variety).

It seems like an ineffective parenting strategy to find oneself constantly annoyed by the tasks of parenting. But try as I may, I cannot carve out enough of the time to read that keeps me sane. I have tried waking up early before everyone else is awake, but then I don’t want to put the book down when they all wake up. I have tried staying up late, but then I am exhausted when they all wake up. I have tried reading during the miniscule amount of time I set aside for exercise and immediately gained ten pounds.

A few months ago, while ironing (yes, I begrudgingly iron) I was feeling especially hard done by, because I COULD BE READING! The thought occurred to me that instead of listening to Hamilton for the 82 millionth time (here’s to 82 million more times), I could be listening to a book. Wait, what?! Listen to a book. But that thought was immediately dismissed because listening to books is not reading them and I read books. Everyone knows you read with your eyes not your ears.

And here is where I admit a far amount of book snobbery on my part. I have long-held the belief that audiobooks are not *real* books. To my way of thinking, their sole purpose is to replace movies during road trips. I have stood firmly on the soap box called “paper-in-hand.”

But when that fleeting audiobook thought entered my mind I started thinking about all the hours I spend during the day with at least one ear bud in my ear. (Because if I can’t read, I have to listen to music…my music. This is to stay sane and, let’s be honest, drown out the incessant fighting, complaining, and whining. Again, perhaps not the most effective parenting strategy, but something has to give and it is better for all of us if that thing is not my mind.) I slowly came to the realization that if I listened to books during all those times when I was listening to music, I could actually start to make small amounts of progress on my “to be read” list. Hmmmmm…

And so for the first time ever, I find myself looking up books on Overdrive and intentionally checking for the headphone icon as opposed to pompously filtering that icon out of my sight. I am beginning to have hope that maybe, just maybe, there is way to make progress on this never-ending list of things to do while also getting the chance to cross some books off my list. In my imagination, this possibility gives way to a mother of a bright and bubbly disposition and a family seamlessly gliding from one thing to the next with nary a bump in the road.

It really could be that simple, right?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.