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Yet again, we recently had a conversation in which we stated that while AMAZING authors are writing superb books for children today, children do not always have to read the absolutely latest books. It really is worth looking at books written over the years — because even if that book for ten-year-olds is ten years old, it is new to today’s ten-year-olds. So, with that in mind, we are reviewing a few “classics” written over the years for kids and young adults.

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For Children

FC9780448464961.jpgThe Nancy Drew Series by Carolyn Keene (assorted years) – These classic detective novels about teenage Nancy, her boyfriend Ned, and their friends were loved, loved, loved by one of us. They are also beloved all over the world, with multiple movies and TV shows. This does not make them any less magical for children who discover them for the first time. We now add the Trixie Belden Series by Julie Campbell – This series was read and re-read as an seven, eight, and nine year old by the one of us who could not even remotely relate to the perfect Nancy Drew; Trixie’s obvious flaws and obnoxiously curly hair made her feel right at home. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780689846236-1.jpgThe Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1938) – This tender, heart-renching tale of a boy named Jody and the orphaned fawn he adopted has been read by millions and made into a movie. The fawn, Flag, becomes Jody’s best friend. Unfortunately, their life in the woods of Florida is harsh, complete with fights with wolves, bears, and even alligators.  However, ultimately their failure at farming forces Jody to part with his dear friend.~ Lisa Cadow

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 (also reviewed in Books for Summer Campers.)

FC9781442494985.jpgStella by Starlight by Sharon 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 now 12-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 (Also reviewed in Books for Summer Campers.)

FC9780881035414.jpgAnne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947) – This infamous diary, written by a teenage victim of the Holocaust, has helped millions understand the horrors of WWII. As so many know because of this diary, in 1942,  thirteen-year-old Anne and her family fled their home in Amsterdam to go into hiding. For two years, until they were betrayed to the Gestapo, they lived in the “Secret Annexe” of an old office building, facing hunger, boredom, the constant insane difficulties and the ever-present threat of discovery and death. With this diary Anne Frank let us all know what so many experienced. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780544570986.jpgBooked and The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (assorted years) – Yes, we love Mr. Alexander’s books. Yes, we have recommended both these books before. But trust us, the youth readers you love will love these books about soccer (Booked) and basketball (The Crossover). They are poetic, perfect for reluctant readers, and both address how life happens while you have your eye on the ball. (Also reviewed in Sports Books That are About So Much More.)

FC9780545791342.jpgHarry Potter Series by JK Rowling (assorted years) – This ebtire series reminded us as adults of the magic of stories for children and adults. This series magically reminded readers all over the world that kids can be powerful and adults can be stern, but helpful. Please don’t let the commercial aspects of successful movies and theme parks turn you away from these characters. They really are great tales. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780786838653.jpgPercy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan (assorted years) – This was an important audio books for me and my two sons.  It combines Greek myths and real life, relatable kids – perfect. And, if you like this initial Percy Jackson series there are many, many spin-off series, including one devoted to Egyptian myths, one to Norse myths, and one that combines Greek and Roman myths, using characters from the original Percy Jackson Series. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780064409391.jpgThe Chronicles of Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis (assorted years) – We both read and re-read this series throughout elementary school and loved it each time. The series addresses bullying, the ability to learn from one’s mistakes, that adults are often helpful to children, but sometimes they are not, teamwork, and the power of great stories. For Lisa Christie, this series truly laid the groundwork for her love of all things British. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780689711817.jpgThe Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by E.L. Konisberg (1967)Probably the favorite book from elementary school for each of us. Running away to live in a museum in NYC? Sign us up. For those of you needing a plot overview, not just a reminder of this fabulous book, in this book, 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, in a very smart move, she does so with her penny pinching brother and his bank account.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780141321066.jpgThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodges Burnett (1911) – In this novel, orphaned Mary Lennox is sent to her uncle’s mansion on the Yorkshire Moors. There she finds many secrets, including a dormant garden, surrounded by walls and locked with a missing key. This was perhaps the first book to show us both the beauty of England, as well as the possibilities of special places and unlikely friendships. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780679824114.jpgThe Magic Treehouse Series by Mary Pope Osborn (assorted years) – The audio book versions of these early chapter books have saved many a car trip with kids.  The paper versions are excellent first chapter books for emerging readers. And the main characters – Jack and Annie – will provide your early readers with hours of friendship and adventure as they use their time-traveling treehouse. As adults, you may learn a thing or two about history as well. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780544022805.jpgThe Wednesday Wars (2007) and OK For Now (2011) by Gary Schmidt (For those of us of a certain age, it is hard to believe the the 1960s and 1970s are being taught in our schools as history instead of as current events. But they are. These two books provide an excellent introduction to this era and some of the topics of the 60s and 70s – Vietnam, the women’s movement, environmentalism. They also tackle school bullies, poverty, joblessness, great teachers and hope. Both provide memorable characters in extremely moving moments. Both were award winners – OK For Now  was a National Book Award Finalist and The Wednesday Wars was a Newberry Honor Book.

FC9780440237846.jpgBefore We Were Free by Julia Alvarez (2002) – By Anita’s 12th birthday, most of her relatives have emigrated from the Dominican Republic of 1960 to the United States, and because they are suspected of opposing Trujillo, the government’s secret police terrorize those left behind. A fictional version of Ms. Alvarez’s experiences as a child in the DR, this book reminds us all of what it feels like to not feel safe in your own home and how important the promise of a new life somewhere else are to those who need hope.

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A few for Young adults

FC9780446677554.jpgCounting Coup by Larry Colton (2000) – Mr. Colton journeys into the world of Montana’s Crow Indians and follows the struggles of a talented, moody, and charismatic young woman basketball player named Sharon. This book far more than just a sports story – it exposes Native Americans as long since cut out of the American dream. But it also showcases the power of sports to change lives. ~ 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 (First reviewed in But the News…)

FC9780307389732.jpgLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1988) – Long ago in Colombia Florentino Ariza, a poet meets and falls forever in love with Fermina Daza. She marries Dr. Juvenal Urbino instead. Florentino does not give up easily and decides to wait as long as he has to until Fermina is free. This ends up as 51 years, 9 months and 4 days later, when suddenly, Dr. Juvenal Urbino dies, chasing a parrot up a mango tree. The tale is then told in flashbacks to the time of cholera and then again in present time.  The words are perfect, the plot unforgettable and the novel one you will not regret picking up. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780375759314.jpgCrossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner (1987) – This novel follows the lives and aspirations of two couples as they move between Vermont and Wisconsin.  The prose quietly propels you through with compassion and majesty, providing incredible insight into friendship and marriage. (We acknowledge we may be a bit biased due to the Vermont connection, but Mr. Stegner’s prose is phenomenal.) ~ Lisa Cadow (seconded by Lisa Christie)

FC9781481438254.jpgA Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017) – Mr. Reynolds tackles gun violence in an unique and powerful novel. The story unfolds in short bouts of powerful insightful verse over the course of a 60 second elevator ride when Will must decide whether or not to follow the RULES – No crying. No snitching. Revenge. – and kill the person he thinks killed his brother Shawn. With this tale, Mr. Reynolds creates a place to understand the why behind the violence that permeates the lives of so many, and perhaps hopefully a place to think about how this pattern might end. ~ Lisa Christie (First reviewed in FEARS: Part Two)

FC9780380778553.jpgRebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938) – This was the very first book that kept me up all night reading and for this pleasure I will forever be in its debt. Enter this gothic drama on the shores of Monte Carlo where our unnamed protagonist meets Max, the dashing, wounded, and mysterious millionaire she is swept away by and marries. The following pages whisk readers back to his English country estate “Manderley” where his deceased wife “Rebecca” haunts the characters with her perfect and horrible beauty. Can Max’s new wife ever live up to her memory? Will the lurking, skulking housekeeper Mrs. Danvers drive us all mad? How will the newlyweds and Manderley survive all the pressures pulsing in the mansion’s wings? If finding out the answers to these questions isn’t enough to entice you to curl up with this book right away, it also has one of the most famous first lines in literature.  ~ Lisa Cadow (Reviewed in Fiction Lovers – a few classics)

FC9780140186390-1.jpgEast of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952) – While Grapes of Wrath (1939) is probably assigned more often by English teachers everywhere, this book reads like a soap opera told in excellent prose. I also think that one can learn all the nuances of good and evil from this tale of Mr. Steinbeck. And I can say that almost 40 years later, I still remember how I felt reading this book as a teen. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780767901260.jpgA Hope In the Unseen by Ron Suskind (1998) – Using actual people, this book clearly illustrates the obstacles faced by bright students from tough neighborhoods. As a Wall Street Journal reporter, Mr. Suskind followed a few students in a high school in a struggling, drug-riddled neighborhood in Washington, D.C. for a few years to see what happens to students in schools that lack the resources to effectively serve them. The true story of one of these students, the heart of this book, will haunt the reader long after the last page is turned. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780671792763.jpgBrave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough (1991) – Gorgeous, insightful, interesting and diverse essays populate this collection. We promise you will learn something and the diversity of the subjects (e.g., life in DC, building of the Brooklyn Bridge, Harriet Beecher Stowe, pioneer aviators like Amelia Earhart, Beryl Markham, and Anne Lindbergh, what Presidents do in retirement) means that there is something in this collection for every reader. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780307278449.jpgThe Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970) – WOW, what insight into so many things can be found in this slim volume. Told in multiple, sometimes contradictory, interlocking stories, Ms. Morrison explores Whiteness as the common standard of beauty, the power of stories for survival, and sexual abuse. We don’t think you will forget this tale anytime soon. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780446310789.jpgTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) – The amazing Mrs. McPherson (yes teachers, you are remembered years later) introduced my eighth grade English class to this classic — one which resonated so well as a 12-year-old and continues to awe me (and thousands of others) today. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780141040349.jpgFC9781607105558.jpgPride and Prejudice (1813) and Sense and Sensibility (1811) by Jane Austen – Just good books. ~ 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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An email from one of our great friends in need of perfect books for her soon-to-be-High-School-Senior to read this summer led to this post.  Since this student is an avid and discriminating reader, she wanted well-written books. However, since this student’s summer plans include attending a challenging academic camp, she wanted our picks to be “fun” to read.

What follows is based upon the list we created for her.  Since we think it is pretty good list for anyone (adult and young adult alike) looking for good books to read this summer, we share it now with you.

Before we begin our reviews, we would like to note two things about this list. 1) Most of the titles were published years ago. We list them now because people currently in high school were too young for these novels when they initially appeared on bookstore shelves, and we don’t want them or anyone to miss a chance to read these titles. 2) Most of these picks, while selected for readers who are YA’s target audience, are not books that most publishers would label as YA. Two 2014 YA titles finish out our list for anyone looking for a purely YA read.

What Could Be Called “Coming of Age” Novels 

Zorro by Isabel Allende (2005).  While Ms. Allende is known for magic realism, this novel offers a more straightforward narrative than found in most of her books. Ms. Allende’s account of the legend begins with Zorro’s childhood and finishes with the hero. Have fun with this book. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell (2002) – A look at China and USA through the eyes of a young woman whose life is greatly affected her American father’s fascination with China. Not necessarily light, but truly a great, great “coming of age” book. We have been recommending this to men, women and young adults for years and have never had a disgruntled customer.  One all male book club declared it their best discussion book ever. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea (2005) – Mr. Urrea creates a history of Mexico as seen through the life of one of their saints (who happens to be one of his distant relatives). This saga, written in gorgeous and lyrical prose, shows a Mexico that many might otherwise miss. ~ Lisa Christie

Some Novels with an Adventurous Bent

Death Comes To Pemberley by PD James (2011) – This mystery revisits at the characters and places from Pride and Prejudice six years after Darcy and Elizabeth are married. Their lives are rambling along quite well until a murderer enters their realm. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Department Q mysteries by Jussi Adler Olsen (assorted years) – All the Department Q mysteries take place in Denmark. They all involve a lovable and unique cast of police detectives. They all teach you a bit about life in Scandinavia. They are all well-written and fun, with some gory details periodically inserted. ~ Lisa Christie

A More Serious Novel with International Overtones

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (2001) – This well-written novel tracks the lives of partygoers when an event honoring a Japanese businessman visiting an embassy in an unnamed South American country goes terribly awry. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Some Non-Fiction Choices 

On Writing by Stephen King (2000) – His attempt to show people how to write well, is really an autobiography about a writing life. Well-written, fascinating look at an American author that happens to have some good tips on getting better at writing. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

In the Sea There are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda (2011) – This short book follows an Afghan refugee through the countries he must cross, and shows what he must do to survive and achieve political asylum. The fact that he was ten when his journey began, and he did it all alone, makes it a truly thought-provoking read. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Counting Coup: A True Story of Basketball and Honor at Little Big Horn by Larry Colter (2001) – An amazing tale of a gifted young basketball player named Sharon LaForge. Mr. Colter follows her and her team as they navigate the challenges of their basketball season and their home lives on an Native American reservation. I still remember passages thirteen years after reading it the first time. ~ Lisa Christie

Some Actual YA Titles For Young Adults (and adults – let’s be honest here)

Like No Other by Una LaMarche (July 2014) – West Side Story with an African-American as the male lead and a Hasidic girl as the female lead.  Set in modern-day Brooklyn, this tale explores the feelings one’s first true love brings, and what it means to make your own way into the world — even if it requires navigating respecting one’s parents while rebelling from their rules. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (May 2014) – I can not say much about the plot as it will ruin the book.  But this story of a privileged family summering on an island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard is a page-turner. The plot revolves around decisions leading up to a tragedy, and then focuses on how the decisions made after the tragedy affect the family, particularly the 18-year-old narrator. ~ Lisa Christie

This list is not meant to be a one size fits all recommendation.  If you have trouble matching the young adults in your life to any of these books, please send us a comment and we will try to find a book to meet your needs.

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