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Posts Tagged ‘Maureen Johnson’

DSC04450Late July — a time to tackle some of those books on your kids’ or nieces’ or nephews’ or grandkids’ summer reading list, a perfect excuse for your kids to spend a day in a hammock with a good book, an opportunity for rainy days to be filled with words, and the season when many young campers would love a care package full of books. So to help you navigate all these reasons to read, we’ve compiled our annual list of books for young summer campers — whether they have a tent pitched in their own backyard or are someplace far away.

To help guide selections a bit, we divided our picks into two categories 1) picks for young to middle grade readers, and 2) books for young adults. We do so, as always, with the disclaimer these categories are very, very loose; so please use them as guidelines, not gospel. We also decided to feature more recent titles, but this does not mean we don’t recommend the classics – The Wednesday Wars, Stuart Little, Harry Potter, Rose Under Fire, Swallows and Amazons, The Bluest Eye, Percy Jackson. We whole heartedly recommend the classics and older titles and blog about them often; we just don’t feature them in this post.

We hope you have fun with these books wherever you and your young loved ones may be this summer. Happy reading!

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Some fiction and non-fiction for young to middle grade readers

Bo at Iditarod Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill (2015) – This series brings us back to our days of devouring the “Little House” books. And while this series, unlike Ms. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s, is not a memoir, it feels authentic, and the illustrations are especially evocative of those etchings of Ma, Pa, Laura and Mary. In this sequel to Bo at Ballard Creek, we continue to follow Bo, her brother, and her two dads as they travel the Alaskan Gold Rush. Give this one to all your Little House fans; they will thank you. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry (2015) – Perhaps my favorite book for kids so far in the summer of 2015.  Fans of Dave Barry will love the humor. Fans of fun adventures will love this book about four kids and their unusual plan to save the President using a kite and some stolen property (it all makes sense in the end). ~ Lisa Christie

X:A novel by IlyAsah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon (2015) – This novel looks at Malcolm X and his formative years in Michigan, Boston and NYC.  Written by his daughter and Ms. Magoon (author of another recommended kids book, How it Went Down), this book humanizes a legend, and illustrates how your choices and your reactions to them shape your life. ~ Lisa Christie

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff (2015) – SUPERB! Sad. Powerful. Trent’s 6th grade year is scarred by the aftermath of a tragic accident in 5th grade.  Nothing gets much better until Trent meets an unique and also scarred, force of nature called Fallon. The story of Trent and Fallon is one of second chances, recovery and friendship. It is also an honest look at rage, anger,and blame. As award-winning author Gary Schmidt states, “This book will change you.” ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin (2015) – Ruby has a big secret that keeps her from inviting friends over to play and that takes her out of town every Saturday — her mom is in prison. She is fuzzy on the details of why her mom is incarcerated because, quite honestly, she does not really want to know. However, in this book she is starting middle school in mere weeks and she is thinking about her mom more often than when she was a young child. Plus, there is a new girl in her condo complex who just might be a friend. This story tells Ruby’s story and introduces the reader to the complicated lives led by children of the incarcerated. This would be a great book to read with your kids as it would lead to great conversations about bad choices and the ripple of repercussions they leave behind. ~ Lisa Christie

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (2015) – A plot influenced by magic realism and launched by a fairy tale about the fate of three princesses, allows a harmonica to travel among three children in three different states/countries (Germany, Pennsylvania and California) during WWII. This harmonica unites their very different war experiences (rescuing a father from concentration camp, ensuring a brother does not go to an orphanage, helping a family hold on to their farm) into one lovely book. Uniquely crafted, this story of love, music, and war will both educate and delight. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Ferals by Jacob Grey (2015) – Caw was abandoned by his parents when he was very young and he has been living with and talking to the crows ever since. Then one day, he and his crows save a girl, and he finds his first human friend. Things then get complicated as they discover other humans who can talk with animals, and then learn that some of those “ferals/animal talkers” are intent on destroying the world by bringing the “Spinning Man” back to life. Believe us — this will all make sense to the kids who read this dark adventure for animal lovers. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Graphic Library’s many stories — The Attack on Pearl Harbor, Matthew Henson, Jim Thorpe, Shackleton and his lost Antarctic Expedition, The Battle of Gettysburg (assorted years) – GREAT nonfiction graphic novels covering a variety of topics. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

images-1Some Fiction Picks for For Young Adults

Read Between the Lines by Jo Knowles (2015) – Ms. Knowles is one of our favorite Young Adult (YA) writers ever since we read Living with Jackie Chan. In this outing, she describes one day in the life of a few teachers, a couple of cheerleaders, some stoners, some jocks and some who don’t know exactly where they fall in the High School hierarchy. Her tale serves as a reminder that everyone has a story to tell, and maybe more importantly, that we would all be better off if we took some time to find those tales. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour (2014) – What I loved most about this book is that the main romance is between two girls, and it is NOT a big deal. That fact alone makes this book lovely. That matter of fact telling would never have been included in books aimed at teens of my generation. So thank you Ms. LaCour. But, in addition to some teen romance, this book gives you insight into the world of making movies, a mysterious letter from a silver screen legend, teen sleuths, homeless teens, messed up adults, bi-racial families, and great friends. And, just so you know, I tried to put this down because I needed to read something else for other work, but I kept picking it back up as I just wanted to know what happened in the end to all these characters. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (2015) – A superb, superb book about love, life and suicide told from the perspective of two teens – Violet and Finch, living in Indiana, trying to figure out what senior year of High School means, what colleges to attend and how to play the hands they have been dealt by life (him – abusive father, indifferent mother; her – she survived a car wreck, her sister did not). I SOBBED at the end, but am glad I have this perspective on young adult life and the aftermath of death. I can not recommend it highly enough; but be warned readers will be sad along with the happy. ~ Lisa Christie

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson (2011) – We are a bit late to the game on this book as we just discovered this YA series last month. But, we are so glad though as we loved this first book. In it, a Louisiana native relocates to a London Boarding school where she discovers an ability to see and speak with ghosts just as gruesome crimes mimicking those of the horrific Jack the Ripper begin. The good news is if your favorite YA readers likes this one, there are at least two more titles to devour. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Book Jam Question:   Why read Young Adult Literature?

Answer from Beth Reynolds, Children’s Librarian, Norwich Public Library, and bookseller, The Norwich Bookstore:  

“It all comes down to is this: Labels don’t matter, good writing does.”

Outstanding children’s librarian Beth Reynolds (and someone we are also lucky to call a dear friend) offers some words of wisdom around the YA genre and some sure fire hits for all of us looking for a good book — young adults and adults alike. This is our first in what we hope will be a series of guest bloggers on the Book Jam. So now, please enjoy a posting by our first guest author — librarian extraordinaire, Ms. Beth!

Ask anyone who works with books and they can fill you in on what happens to be the latest internet drama over one book or another. There is always an uproar about some genre: Chick-lit, Fantasy, Horror, Science fiction, Romance etc… When a group of books gets categorized and labeled, readers of that genre are often dismissed for their tastes. As if what they’re reading isn’t good enough, as if it isn’t literary enough for the likes of critics or someone looking down from on high.

As someone who spends her weeks donning her librarian’s cap and weekends wearing her bookseller name-tag, I can tell you that it’s often possible for me to guess a reader’s preference when they walk through the door.(Again, this is Ms. Beth writing this post, so please don’t try to find the Book Jam Lisas working in either a bookstore or library, although we both frequent both.) After many years of experience, it is possible for me to make some predictions and assumptions–but it’s not foolproof. In fact, the best interactions I have are with readers interested in a book just because the topic interests them, because a friend suggested it, or because they heard an interview on the radio.


But truly, NOTHING makes me happier than an adult coming into the Young Adult section to get a book, not for a teen, but for themselves. Much ink has been spilt over this very controversy – adults who read YA. If you think adults reading YA are wasting their time or if reading in the teen section is not something you’ve ever considered, think about this:

  • The lines between adult fiction and YA are blurry — There is a large amount of crossover and sometimes a book that ends up classified in one section is often thought to belong in the other. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak was published as YA here but as Adult in England, the opposite is true of Mark Haddon‘s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Take a look at the Alex awards for each years offerings of titles published as adult but of interest to teens; you could be reading YA and not even know it.

  • YA books remind us of what it was like being a teen — I admit to reading a fair amount of boy meets girl, or boy meets boy or girl meets girl. Something about the vulnerability mixed with the possibility and potential for more appeals to me. I love the ability of these teen characters to live in the moment and their willingness to take that risk. Sometimes it’s hard for me to imagine that adults are ones doing the writing they manage to convey such honest teen emotions. Recently, Love Letters to the Dead by Ava DellairaAfterworlds by Scott Westerfeld and The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider became some of my favorites new books to recommend. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is being published in January and I hope everyone rushes out to read it.

  • There is often a shared feeling of experience among books in different genres — There are times when I read an adult book and I think “Hey, this feels just like book I read that was meant for younger readers. Somehow the author has managed to evoke that same essence”. Here are a few of my recent discoveries of superb pairings:

All the Light We Cannot See The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close = Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

Me Before You = Say What You Will

The Rosie Project = The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee 

  • There is more in the YA section then sex, drugs and gratuitous swearing — John Green, Maureen Johnson, Jennifer Smith, E Lockhart, Rainbow Rowell, Gayle Foreman… fabulous authors of realistic, contemporary fiction. Just kids, no fantasy or paranormal romance, with their honest emotions. There is a scene from Green’s The Fault in Our Stars when Hazel’s mom worries about losing her daughter, she questions whether or not she’ll be a mom anymore. To me that writing shows that divide for what it is: an aching, piercing line that divides, but one which we as adults can crossover to occasionally pretend that the world of choices after high school is still ahead of us. Many people say they wouldn’t go back again, but reading YA lets you relive some of the good parts.

The best part of reading YA is that these books are often told in the first person. The writer knows they have to grab the reader from the very beginning, so the first sentence often hooks you. Also, most books in this genre are not incredibly long and don’t require a huge time commitment. If nothing else, they are easily accessible but filled with thought-provoking ideas that linger after you finish reading. They contain multitudes– like some of the teens you know. Sometimes I read them in between other books, I think of them as palate cleansing. They take you out of your own head and that’s often why I read.

I ran into a mom and her teen-aged daughter the other day and we started reminiscing about the book club we had when our kids were in 4th grade. Wanting to invoke that feeling again, I asked if her daughter would be up for a Book Club when she went away to college next year and we started listing off fun titles to read. She asked if I had read When We Were Liars and I nodded my affirmation with a conspiratorial smile. Her mom looked intrigued and I thought, “Hey, my work here is done. Though my mission to have adults sample what YA has to offer still looms large”.  If you’re intrigued to find out more about adults reading YA, read on:


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