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Posts Tagged ‘books for children’

Books for Summer Campers

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A recent conversation with the father of a 3-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter about a horrific car trip with the said kids, revealed that he had never heard of Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Treehouse series. We were saddened as we can guarantee that the print version and/or the audiobooks have saved more family car trips than anyone can count. So, we sent him straight to his local bookstore to stock up on print and audio book versions. This encounter reminded us that new parents are often unfamiliar with books we assume everyone knows because they have been around for awhile. In short, we remembered that you don’t know what you don’t know, and that most parents don’t know about most of the great things for kids that have saved numerous parents before them.

So, this year’s annual post of “books for summer campers” includes our usual emphasis on recent books for kids but also includes some classics, because we would hate for anyone to miss out on the joys of Susan Cooper just because we assume everyone knows about her amazing novels for kids. As always, we hope our selections help the last days of summer pass magically for the children in your life. (NOTE: We tried to include hardcovers and paperbacks and ebooks, so you could access whatever type you need. We also included a few series as we know from experience if a kid likes one book it is a great thing to have another one just like it waiting to begin.)

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Chapter books for elementary school kids to read (or be read to)

FC9780803738393.jpgThe Best Man by Richard Peck (2016) – This may be the best book I’ve read all year, or at least the one that made me grin the most. Mr. Peck’s superb sense of humor and his ability to remember what it is like to be a kid, make this tale a memorable, smile-inducing novel. Somehow, without preaching, he manages to cover gay marriage, death, divorce, war, national guard service, reconciliation, bullying, bad teachers, social media, hormones, school lunches, middle school, the British Empire, and the Cubs — all in a tale about being a kid in the 21st Century.  Read it today; no matter your age, you will not be sorry. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781101934593.jpgFlying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh (2017) – Ms. Oh, the founder of “We Need Diverse Books“, has edited a collection of short stories by authors who happen to be persons of color. Among them, the group has earned every major award in children’s publishing, as well as popularity as New York Times bestselling authors. Each story is completely unrelated to the rest and totally fabulous. This collection is perfect for a reluctant reader as one of these stories is sure to be just right. (Perhaps the one by Kwame Alexander?) And, as a collection, it makes a great family read aloud. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781580897136.jpgA Long Pitch Home by Natalie Dias Lorenzi (2016) – We agree that we all need more diverse books (see review above); and, this novel about Bilal, a 10-year-old boy from Pakistan newly arrived in the USA, provides a good place to start. This tale of family, culture, and refuge compassionately addresses immigration from a kid’s perspective. The plot turns on such questions as: Will Bilal’s father be able to join him or has he disappeared in Pakistan for  good? Will he survive the fact his younger sister’s English is better than his? Will he learn to love baseball as much as cricket? And, what is home? ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781410495884.jpgThe Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan (2017) – This second book in Mr. Riordan’s Apollo trilogy is fabulous. Enjoy Mr. Riordan’s trademark humor and well told tale for younger readers! And, if you haven’t already, try his other series; they all capture the trials of growing up with humor, grace, and with some learning about mythology. You, and the children you love, will not regret a moment spent in Mr. Riordan’s novels~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781442494985.jpgStella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper (2015) – A superb book about racism in depression-era North Carolina told from the perspective of a young African American girl. Don’t take my word for the quality of this book, my 11-year-old says it is among his top five favorite books. The New York Times said it is a “novel that soars”; School Library Journal called it “storytelling at its finest” in a starred review. The audio book will make car rides pass quickly. ~ Lisa Christie

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Some oldies but goodies (i.e. classics) for kids

FC9780689711817.jpgMixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by EL Konisberg (1967) – The 50th anniversary of this beloved book seems like a great time to reveal that this book was the favorite of all the books we read in elementary school — for each of the Book Jam Lisas. In it, Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, and in doing so does not run from somewhere, she runs to somewhere–a place that is comfortable, beautiful, and, preferably, elegant — the Met. And she does so with her penny pinching brother and his bank account. This tale holds up today — as each of us has read it to our kids at some point and loved it all over again. (We also recommend the audio book versions of this book of her other engaging novels such as The View From Saturday.)~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781442489677.jpgDark is Rising series by Susan Cooper ( 1965-1977) Will Stanton discovers that he is the last-born of the Old Ones, immortals dedicated to keeping mankind free from the Dark. And now, the Dark is rising. Will, along with Merriman – a wise teacher, three mortal siblings, and a mysterious boy named Bran are soon caught up in a fight against evil.  These stories thrilled us as children YEARS ago, introduced us to UK towns and villages, and still engage children today. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780140386745.jpgJip by Katherine Paterson (1998) – Many know her classic, Newbery award winning novel The Bridge to Terebithia, but this winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, tells the tale of an orphan in Vermont, and depicts a history that most of us never hear about. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780689844454.jpgKing of Shadows by Susan Cooper (1999) – Nat is thrilled to join an American drama troupe traveling to London to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the famous Globe Theater. However, after being taken ill he is transported 400 years to an earlier London, Will Shakespeare, and another production of the play. History, time travel, adventure, and family all propel this tale.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780547328614.jpgIsland of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (1960) – We reach back before we were born for this book. But it played an important part in our early reading experiences. It also proved to be a favorite read aloud to our own children (and even inspired a mother-son trip kayaking trip to the Channel Islands off the coast of California where this book is set). Karana’s quiet courage, her loneliness and terror eventually lead to strength and serenity in this Newbery Medal-winning classic. This book chronicles Karana’s year’s long survival (along with beloved dog Rontu) alone on an island after all of her relatives and tribe have been evacuated to the mainland. It is based on the true story of Juana Maria, also known as “The Woman of San Nicholas Island,” a Native American woan who lived on her own for eighteen years until she was rescued by a ship sailing in the area. It will hold children spellbound as they learn about indigenous people and try to imagine how they would have survived if faced with a similar challenge. ~Lisa Cadow 

FC9780786838653.jpgRick Riordan’s various mythology series (assorted years) — As mentioned above, you, and the children you love, will not regret a moment spent in Mr. Riordan’s novels~ Lisa Christie

 

downloadMystery of the Green Cat by Phyllis A. Whitney  – Yes, the famous adult author wrote a mystery or two for children. And, this mystery is one I read over and over as a kid. And, when I moved to San Francisco as an adult I was glad that I had; this book provided me a map of Nob Hill, Golden Gate Park, Fisherman’s Wharf, The SF Bay, and Chinatown that I didn’t even realize it embedded in me until I resided there. It is out of print, but we include it here as an example of how the books you read as a kid are so much a part of who you are as an adult, and in some cases quite literally map aspects of your future life. ~ Lisa Christie

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For slightly older readers/young adults

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Solo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess (2017) – Mr. Alexander does it again, with help from Ms. Hess; I truly love the books this man creates. Blade is the son of an aging rock star who has reacted to the death of Blade’s mom with an everlasting and highly dysfunctional descent into addiction and absentee parenting. As the story unfolds, Blade deals with high school graduation, his father’s inability to stay sober, his sister’s delusions of grandeur, the fact the love of his life has broken his heart, and a recent revelation he is adopted, by escaping to Ghana to find the birth mother he didn’t even know he missed. This is a terrific tale of music, maturing, love, adoption, family, and finding your way, told in Mr. Alexander’s usual sparse, but effecting poetic style (with an added bonus of a great soundtrack).  ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781101997239.jpgThe Epic Fail of Arturo Zamona by Pablo Cartaya (2017) – The power of poetry and protest permeates this novel about a young man Arturo, living in Miami and simultaneously trying to save his family’s restaurant and navigate his first crush.  ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781484717165.jpgThe Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein (2017) – This prequel to the fabulous and complicated Code Name Verity shows the family and upbringing that created Verity’s heroine Julia. The plot incorporates dead bodies, missing servants, life life of the gentry, travellers, and the Scottish countryside of the 1930s. It also made me want to re-read the original novel. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062498533.jpgThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017) – Sometimes it takes a work of fiction to give life to current events. And sometimes it takes a book for children to give all of us a starting point for conversations about difficult issues. Ms. Thomas has done all of us a service by producing this fresh, enlightening, and spectacular book about the black lives lost at the hands of the police every year in the USA. Starr Carter, the teen she created to put faces on the statistics, straddles two worlds — that of her poor black neighborhood and  that of her exclusive prep school on the other side of town. She believes she is doing a pretty good job managing the differing realities of her life until she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by a police officer. As a description of this book stated, The Hate U Give “addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty”.  Just as importantly, it is a great story, with fully formed characters who will haunt you, told by a gifted author. Please read this one!  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys –  My then 8th grader loved this tale of the World War II in the Baltic States. In it, a group of teens and a few adults is trying to escape Hitler’s and Stalin’s armies and make it to safety on the Wilhelm Gustloff. Ms. Sepetys does a fabulous job of creating memorable characters and wrapping them into a plot heavily weighted by historical events.  Or, as The Washington Post stated, “Riveting…powerful…haunting.”~ Lisa Christie

FC9781524739621.jpgAlex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz (2017) – The Hamilton craze continues in this historical novel for teens. This time, Eliza tells the story of her romance with and eventual marriage to Alexander Hamilton.  Along the way, the author intermingles Eliza’s role in history as well as the work of Mr. Hamilton and other revolutionaries.  ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780440237846.jpgBefore We Were Free by Julia Alvarez (2002) – By Anita’s 12th birthday in 1960, most of her relatives have emigrated from the Dominican Republic to the United States. Terrifyingly, her uncle/Tio has disappeared without a trace. The government is monitoring her family because of their suspected opposition of el Trujillo’s dictatorship. Ms. Alvarez helps readers understand what dictatorship looks like, what it means to be left behind, and how we all dream of better lives. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780760352298.jpgGeorge Washington: Frontier Colonel by Sterling North (2016) and other titles in this series – We realize while many of our picks are based in fact, our list is lacking in nonfiction; we remedy that now with a new series of biographies by Young Voyageur/Quarto Publishing Group. We would describe this new series as the “Who is? What Was?” (or bobble-head books as many kids call them) series for older readers, with fabulous primary source materials scattered throughout.  ~ Lisa Christie

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Some early chapter books for emerging readers

FC9780375813658.jpgMagic Treehouse books by Mary Pope Osborne (assorted years) – These are a must read for those children looking for beginning chapter books as they progress with their reading. In this series, Jack and Annie, just regular kids, discover a tree house in the woods near their house – a treehouse that allows them to use books to time travel. As the series unfolds, they are whisked back in time to the Age of Dinosaurs, a medieval castle, ancient pyramids, treasure-seeking pirates etc… These books also make EXCELLENT audio books for car trips with pre-school kids of almost every age and persuasion. (You are welcome for all the hours of peace and learning and fun these books will bring your household.) ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780307265104.jpgCapitol Mysteries Series by Ron Roy (assorted years) – This series is for emerging readers who like their fictional tales to be slightly more realistic than time travel. In this set, KC Corcoran, a news junkie whose step-dad happens to be the President, tackles all sorts of mysteries (e.g., how to make school exciting, how to save the President from his clone). As a bonus, each of these early chapter books features fun facts and famous sites from Washington, D.C. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780316358323.jpgAssorted Adventures of Tin Tin by Herge (assorted years) – These graphic novels have been translated into 38 languages for good reason – kids love them.  Enjoy! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

 

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A Few Picture Books

FC9780763637842.jpgLibrary Lion by Michelle Knudsen (2007) – Miss Merriweather, is a very rule-oriented librarian – no running and you must be quiet. As long as you follow the rules, you are welcome. Then one day a lion shows up. There are no rules about lions; and so the fun begins in this New York Times bestselling ode to libraries. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781423164821.jpgElephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems (assorted years) – Gerald (an elephant) and Piggie (a pig) have a superb friendship and an unusual capacity for silly. Mr. Willems used to write for Sesame Street and with these books has created a wonderful way for kids to learn to love to read. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780789309624.jpgA superb and classic travel book series by Mirolsav Sasek (assorted 20th century years) – We remember these from our childhood and are pretty certain they helped instil our wanderlust.  Mr. Sasek was born in what was then Czechoslovakia, and is best remembered for his classic stories on the great cities of the world. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Periodically, we invite other book lovers to guest post on the Book Jam.  Today, we are thrilled to welcome back an outstanding Children’s Librarian — Beth Reynolds (or Ms. Beth to many kids in our town). We love the fact she serves as our own children’s librarian extraordinaire. She is the type that calls a child to let them know they have a book on hold, even when they didn’t request it, just because she knows that particular child will love that particular book. Those of you lucky enough to visit or live in Norwich can find her working at our fabulous Norwich Public Library most week days, and the Norwich Bookstore on many a Saturday. So without further ado, some recommendations of children’s books about friendship from our dear friend Ms. Beth.

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Many readers in Vermont are very familiar with Understood Betsy, the only children’s book written by the beloved Dorothy Canfield Fisher. Though she wrote several novels for adults this enchanting chapter book about a young girl in Vermont was her only published work for young readers. This one book phenomena also occurred with the adored editor, Ursula Nordstrom. She helped produce amazing books, ones that most everyone holds dear in remembrances of childhood: Harriet the SpyCharlotte’s Web, Goodnight Moon, Where the Wild Things Are. It’s a noteworthy list. And yet, Ursula herself was responsible for writing one of my favorite children’s books, though not nearly as well-known as the books she edited. The Secret Language, the story of two girls at boarding school and based on the author’s own experiences, was a book that I reread over and over. When I started working for a bookstore in my twenties I tracked down a copy and it’s become a book I have given to some of my dearest adult friends. The paperback copy I have is tattered and pages are falling out. It originally sold for 35 cents and opening it now to most any paragraph brings back a flood of memories: wanting to have a friend so we could dress as ice cream cones for Halloween, or communicate with a secret language, or finding someone who would be my companion during the long nights at school far away from my family. (The Book Jam is sorry to say this book is currently out of print.)

I guess I was looking for such a friend when I left home and went to college. Living in a very small, rural mining town before the creation of the internet, books were the way I learned about the world. I discovered what it was like to have friend—and how to be one— in good situations and difficult ones. And in some ways the books of my childhood are the basis for the contemporary books I read today. No matter the setting or circumstances, I think a good kid’s book should contain fully-realized characters. In some cases, they are so well-drawn that they feel they might leap off the page. As cliché as it might sound, I believe a talented author can instill this exact hope. (Who wouldn’t like a five minute chat, hug or handshake with Harry Potter or Percy Jackson?) I also like to be surprised by a character’s reaction to certain situations. I find it easier to make a connection with a character who contains multitudes, one who doesn’t wear a white or a black hat and has some depth to their emotions. I appreciate an empathetic character, but I find it so much more valuable when those characters evoke empathy in my readers.

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In the spirit of newness—pencils, classes and friends—here are a few chapter books guaranteed to get you off to a great start with your reading.

The Question of Miracles by Elana Arnold – I picked this one up for the title and the image on the cover. Iris and her family moved to Seattle in the wake of a tragic accident. Her new school and her new life require a bit of an adjustment. The loss of her friend clouds everything else, but she finds an unlikely friend in Boris. He’s a mouth breather and a know-it-all, but he teaches her Magic the Gathering. This is not something that sparks an interest, but it does help to pass the time. When she meets his family she discovers he was a miracle baby, meaning his very existence is a medical mystery. Iris starts to wonder if miracles are possible and how to find one for herself. In return for Boris’s gaming advice, she instructs him in social etiquette, which brings about some interesting interactions. I found Iris’s life to be well-drawn and fully-realized. She has a loving set of parents. Her dad works from home with a hairless cat named Charles for a companion. Her parents call her Pigeon, take the time to explore their new rainy surroundings with her and genuinely seem to care for one another. Having characters who seem almost human and interact with each other in a kind, considerate manner even in the face of tragedy is just one of the reasons to pick up this delightful book. (Mrs. Kassab the pregnant bus driver made me smile.) The friendship between Boris and Iris is fraught with differences but the fact that they learn from each other and come to enjoy spending time together just proves that life can be good again when you have friends. ~ Beth Reynolds

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate  – Applegate earned a bit of notoriety with her award-winning novel, The One and Only Ivan. The essence of sincerity and kindness of that book follows through to her latest offering. Jackson lives with his sister Robin and his parents. Life has started to get tricky again, not the least of which involves the reappearance of an overly-large imaginary cat. Crenshaw came into existence years ago but then vanished as most imaginary friends do. But he’s come back into Jack’s life at a crucial point, it looks like his family might have to sell everything they own and start living in their mini-van again.  Homelessness is not a topic address often in kid’s books, though if this subject interests you then definitely pick up Blue Balliett’s Hold Fast book. Applegate examines this issue through the lens of friendship. Jack has lost friends due to their moving around and it helps him to have the support of a friend whose known him for many years—even if that friend is imaginary. Losing your home also means saying goodbye to things, but when given the chance to put a few items in their treasure bags, both kids pick a book. A Hole is To Dig (coincidentally edited by Ursula and almost called Stars and Mashed Potatoes) for Jack, and Robin picks Lyle, Lyle Crocodile. These companions have been with them for most of their lives. When they read each aloud, you could see they provided a bit of stability. Having the support of friends and the comfort of treasured possessions helps create a resiliency that can get you through the rough times. Crenshaw is someone I would want on my side when the chips were down. ~ Beth Reynolds

Auggie and Me: Three Wonder Stories by RJ Palacio – For everyone who loved Wonder, Palacio allows usback into Auggie’s world. He is however a minor character in these three stories. Julian the bully tells his story first. We see Auggie’s familiar story but from a completely different perspective. For many readers Julian was the bully and the character that evoked feelings of anger and a sense of injustice. Palacio turns the tables here and lets us see Julian’s fear. He does end up leaving the school for his unkind acts towards Auggie, but it’s not until he spends time in France with his grandmother that he’s able to see his acts for what they were and their impact. The second story takes someone Auggie has known since he was a toddler and shows us a deeper look into his world, one that doesn’t involve Beecher Prep. Chris has his own problems at his school, but it’s his friendship with Auggie that allows him to navigate these tricky times with his parents and his band dilemma. The third story shows us more about Charlotte, one of Auggie’s welcome buddies. Charlotte auditions for and is accepted into a dance troupe. She finds herself interacting on a daily basis with two other girls. Their afterschool practices actually bring them closer despite their differences. There is also the mystery of a homeless man a situation that tests their new-found friendship. Auggie is a touchstone and a marker for how Charlotte behaves and treats her friends. Each of these stories will delight those who wanted to know more about Auggie’s world while showing different, unexpected sides of some characters they thought they knew and understood. ~ Beth Reynolds

Fish in a Tree by Linda Hunt  – Ally has always been labeled slow and a loser. She can’t read and though that has become a real barrier to making friends, she doesn’t let that stop her. There are other activities that engage her, but she knows that learning to read is the key to moving forward. She can’t figure out how to make that a reality until she gets a new teacher, Mr. Daniels (He clearly went to teacher school with Mr. Terupt.) But her teacher isn’t the only surprise this year, Know-it all Keisha and Albert–the big kid who wears the same shirt everyday and has a fondness for facts—become her closest friends. This book is filled with the day to day life of school, with its highs and lows. There are bullies and triumphant moments that should be celebrated. For me that means the moment when Ally’s older brother, Travis, comes in to ask for help with his own reading. But for others that might mean Ally becoming class president or doing so well on a Fantastico Friday challenge. Or when Albert stands up to the bullies. But I absolutely loved the day when Ally and Keisha show up wearing special shirts to show that they are Albert’s friends. To me it’s one of the sweetest moments in the book and a real standout from all the books reviewed here. I know it’s one I’ll think about for years to come when things might be a bit challenging in my own life. ~ Beth Reynolds

All of these books address big issues, but they should not be defined by them. I wouldn’t pick any of them up and say “Here’s a book about the death of a friends, the threat of homelessness, or this one about bullying or the devastation of dyslexia.” Like a good friend they are not black or white, there is much to think about, ponder and laugh about. Any one of these books would make a great addition to a child’s library or a perfect choice for a parent/child discussion or book group. The characters are complex and intriguing, and the stories are written by authors who truly care about their audiences. Ursula actually wrote a sequel to The Secret Language, but she didn’t like the ending so she burned the manuscript. I’m glad that these authors were brave enough to put their books out into the world for all of us.

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Ahhh, it’s time for summer camping and summer camps.  Whether your kids are going away by themselves or camping with the family, all kids will have more hours to read for pleasure during the brief weeks we call summer vacation.  To help you find the right books for your “campers”, we have selected our annual summer book picks for kids.  And no matter what your kids are doing, or whether you even have kids yourself, you might want to pick up one or two for yourself.  Enjoy!

Younger Campers

Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill (June 2013)  – Fans of the Little House series are going to love this tale of Bo – an orphan adopted by two tough miners in 1920s Alaska.  The illustrations perfectly show both her exuberance and the wide variety of characters who inhabit a hard scrabble mining town in the Alaskan Bush. The prose is delightful as readers learn about mining camps, the hazards of Grizzlies, fourth of July celebrations and how Eskimos, Swedes, Finns, Russians, Creoles and others all mix together to form a town and many extended families.

The Expeditioners by Sarah Stewart Taylor (2012) – We have mentioned this before, but now it is a pick for Vermont’s prestigious DCF award for children’s literature, so we include it again here. This book introduces us to Kit the brain, M.K. the tinkerer, and Zander the brave — three siblings trying to figure out what happened to their father, an acclaimed explorer gone missing, and presumed dead.  Their other problem?  As they work to find their dad, evil government employees are after them.

The Runaway King by Jennifer Nielsen (2013) – The second book in Ms. Nielsen’s Ascendance trilogy, this time Jaron is the legitimate King with enemies all around.  Who can he trust?  What happened to his dearest friend and who is trying to kill him this time?  A truly satisfying installment in this series. The first book – The False Prince is in paperback now, and will cost less to mail if your kids have not yet started this trilogy.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio (2012)I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” says August Pullman, a boy born with a facial deformity that has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Finally starting 5th grade at a prep school, he wants nothing more than to be treated as ordinary.  However, his classmates can’t quite let that happen.  The novel starts from August’s point of view, but switches to many others. The characters emerge changed, and you will too.

The Apprentices by Maile Meloy (June 2013)  – This second installment in Ms. Meloy’s Apothecary series takes up where book one left off, with Jane, Benjamin and Pip all having gone their separate ways. Pip stars in a BBC production; Jane is back in the USA with her parents attending boarding school in NH; and Benjamin is traveling with his apothecary father trying to contain the atom bomb, stalled in 1950s Asia.  What this book does well is bringing Cold War history to life, and creating characters readers care about.  Pre-teen readers will also like the romantic complications that occur as the trio reunites to stop evil from taking over the world.  As with Ms. Nielsen’s series, the first book in this exciting trilogy – Apothecary – is in paperback now.

Older Campers/Young Adults

 

Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth (2011) – I finally got around to reading this young adult novel because my niece had it at the beach.  And, while it is impossible to read this without thinking about The Hunger Games, or (as my sister said) without reading it while simultaneously casting the movie in your head, anyone who misses the novelty of The Hunger Games will love this dystopian series, with its heroine Beatrice and her friends Will, Christina and Tobias.

Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum (28 May 2013)  – I really need to remember to look to the PEN/Bellwether prize winners for socially engaged fiction whenever I need a good plot with great writing.  Alternating chapters and narrative voices, this latest winner looks at a “home” for kids with disabilities and their caregivers and their daily lives.  Throughout, you see their dreams and relationships blossom, fall apart and reconstruct.  The author use wry wit and humor to create memorable characters who live on in your head long after you finish reading the last page.  Billed as a young adult novel, adults will love it too.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013) – Set during one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits — both from he wrong side of the tracks and smart enough to know that first love rarely, if ever, lasts, but willing to try anyway. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own high school years, riding the school bus, any time you tried to fit in while figuring out who you were and your first love.  I truly believe that when the book ends you will think hard about children from the “other side of the tracks” and from family situations that are less than ideal.

Beautiful Creatures by Garcia and Stohl  (2009) – A gothic romance series for teens.  Lena Duchannes arrives in Gatlin, South Carolina making a statement with her clothes and the fact she lives with her extremely eccentric uncle (think To Kill A Mockingbird’s Boo Radley).  She also is dreading her 16th birthday for a variety of reasons.  Ethan Wate, born and bred in Gatlin, is from a family so established he does not have to worry about fitting in, he worries about getting out.  When they discover the voices they have been hearing in their respective heads are each others, a connection is formed and they work to change Lena’s fate.  Bonus — if you like this book, there are many others in this series.

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