We’re coming into summer when everywhere you look from bloggers, magazines, radio, and television to your local bookstore and school offer up the joys of summer reading through lists and displays. Most of them highlight what’s new, just out. Schools don’t tend to do that with their reading lists, but I think they should. Hear me out.
There is something wonderful about a book that has stood the test of time. This is true of a classic adult novel that has been loved for generations. But there is something even more special about the books we all grew up with, especially the ones that maybe our parents and grandparents grew up with as well. Sharing those titles with the young people in our lives is a pure joy to us as we hand them the book we loved so much as a child.
It isn’t always the same experience for the kid receiving the book. Yes, some have stood the test of time well. They do not seem dated and are still relevant today. However, some of the books that we loved and remember with such fond affection reflect the time in which they were published. While working at in the children’s room of the public library there were many days when moms came in pulling a reluctant reader to the shelves of Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, and the Baby-Sitters Club. The first two are now seen as books about the “olden times” and are sometimes enjoyed by kids. The third…well, the looks on the faces of the child should have spoken to the well-meaning moms. And while some grandparents may love the smell of old books, remember that most kids firmly believe that “perfume” is just a stink. (P.S. – For those of you who are crushed to find out the that the Baby-Sitters Club will look old, there is a new graphic novels series that the kids are eating up!)
If your child is a voracious reader, go ahead and recommend away. Show them everything and anything you can recommend. If they are not voracious readers, if they are not even interested in reading, step away from any book that had a huge following for a season. Step away from any book that has characters on the cover sporting 1980s hair and fashion. It doesn’t call out to tweens; it screams, “RUN!” Step away from yellowed pages and musty smells (even the avid readers would usually prefer a cleaner, newer copy of a time-tested book).
As parents and teachers start recommending books to keep their middle graders reading for the summer, they should look for something new and exciting. We all loved Stargirl and Maniac Magee, Because of Winn Dixie, The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 and Bud, Not Buddy. I still love these books. We don’t think these are old. This is the new stuff, right? We can’t wait to introduce our kids to The Giver, Harriet the Spy, Little House on the Prairie, The Bridge to Terabithia, Number the Stars, or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. And I do want to suggest them to young readers. However, I want to do it wisely.
First I have to get the tween or teen to understand that I know what kids like. I want them to see that reading is fun and relevant by giving them books that relate to their lives. If I’m trying to pull in kids who are averse to reading or who may be disheartened at the idea of reading outside of school, I have to give them a book that meets them where they are. As an English teacher and a middle and high school librarian, I counted it a huge success when I gave that kid who “hated to read” a book and had him come back for more. I remember one young man who came into the library saying, “You got me to read one. It was ok. Can you do it again?” By the fourth or fifth time, he was bringing friends and telling them “she’s good” like he had discovered a woman with a secret power hiding in the library. I quietly went in my office and did my happy dance all over the place! Those were the moments when I knew I got it right!
I am seeing summer reading lists coming out from schools. I know why the teachers give them to the kids. I know that they are trying to keep the kids reading and not let them get rusty. They want them to establish a habit of reading. Some of them give choices. A great idea – it makes the kids feel like they have some power in the whole thing. But way too many of them have NOTHING written during the lifetime of the kid! Nothing new and exciting that isn’t taught somewhere as part of the curriculum. As I look back, a book written in 2000 doesn’t seem all that old. To my 11-year-old granddaughter, however, that is over a lifetime and a half ago! Even to a high school senior, it would be a lifetime ago.
If you are looking for something for your middle grade kids to read this summer, why not try some of the titles below. They have all been written within the last five years (Okay, I did cheat and put one from 2012 on there, but it’s a fave, it’s my list, and I can break my own rules) There are a variety of genres and styles, both fiction and nonfiction, and a wide variety of authors. Some of the books use poetry to tell the story. Some are set in countries far away. Some have won awards. Some are parts of a series that began before our time frame, but the fact that the series is still being published will make the first one still relevant today. Once you have used up this list go to your children’s librarian at the public library or to the local independent bookstore where you will find knowledge about what’s new. Ask them what new books they would recommend. That’s how I find out what’s new. They’ve done the work. They will be excited, and you’ll go home with a wealth of information and an armload of exciting new reads.
Once I have dangled the carrot in front of the ones determined not to like reading, have won over the reluctant ones, or have proven to the real readers that I know what’s going on, I can then show them the world of books and they will come along for the tour. And the good news is that you will love these books right alongside your child.
Acampora, Paul – I Kill the Mockingbird (2014) – realistic fiction
Alexander, Kwame – The Crossover (2014) – realistic fiction, told in verse
Rebound (2018) – realistic fiction, told in verse
Anderson, Laurie Halse – Seeds of America Series – Ashes – (2016) – historical fiction
Applegate, Katherine – Wishtree (2017) – fantasy
Crenshaw (2015) – fantasy
The One and Only Ivan (2013) – animals/fiction
Barnhill, Kelly – The Girl Who Drank the Moon (2016) – fantasy
Birdsall, Jeanne – The Penderwicks at Last (fifth and final book in series release 2018) – realistic fiction
Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker – The War That Saved My Life (2015) – historical fiction
The War I Finally Won (2017) – historical fiction
Dagg, Carole Estby – Sweet Home Alaska (2016) – historical fiction/Adventure
Gidwitz, Adam – The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magic Children and Their Holy Dog (2016) – historical fiction/fantasy
Glaser, Karina Yan – The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street (2017) – realistic fiction
Grimes, Nikki – Garvey’s Choice (2016) – realistic fiction
Grabenstein, Chris – The Island of Dr. Libris (2015) – sci-fi/fantasy
Hale, Nathan – Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales Series (2012-2017) nonfiction, history, graphic novel
Jamieson, Victoria – All’s Faire in Middle School (2017) – realistic fiction, graphic novel
Kelly, Erin Entrada – Hello, Universe (2017) – realistic fiction
King, A. S. – Me and Marvin Gardens (2017) – fantasy
Korman, Gordan – Restart (2017) – realistic fiction
Martin, Ann M. – Rain Reign (2014) – realistic fiction
Mass, Wendy & Rebecca Stead – Bob (2018) – fantasy
Palacio, R. J. – Wonder (2012) – realistic fiction
Pennypacker, Sara – Pax (2016) – animal, adventure
Reynolds, Jason – Ghost (2016) – realistic fiction, sports
Patina (2017) – realistic fiction, sports
As Brave As You (2016) – realistic fiction
Rick Riordan – The Trials of Apollo:
The Hidden Oracle (2016) – fantasy, mythology
The Dark Prophecy (2017) – fantasy, mythology
The Burning Maze (2018) – fantasy, mythology
Saeed, Aisha – Amal Unbound (2018) – realistic fiction
Standish, Ali – The Ethan I Was Before (2017) – realistic fiction
Townsend, Jessica – The Trials of Morrigan Crow (2017) – fantasy
Wolk, Lauren – Wolf Hollow (2016) – historical fiction
Woodson, Jacqueline – Brown Girl Dreaming (2014) – memoir, poetry
Yousafzai, Malala – I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up For Education and Changed the World (2014) – memoir, nonfiction