Summer Reading: Part Four

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My final summer reading list is for middle school readers, the kids “in between” middle grade and young adult books. The eight books listed below include characters and dialogue unique to the experience of kids ages 12 to 14.

The Green Bicycle by Haifaa Al-Mansour  (A repeat from last year’s list, but one students always enjoy.  A timely and inspiring novel – based on an excellent movie called Wadjda.  The story of a young girl who wants a bicycle.  Simple enough, right? But she lives in Saudi Arabia where it’s considered improper for a girl to ride a bike.  It would be fun to read the book and then have a movie night!)

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng (I included this book on my last post. It’s on my list of books for middle grade readers, and I would recommend it to adults as well. This is a story about family and friends. A common theme in an uncommonly memorable book.)

Posted by John David Anderson (The perfect book for social media enthusiasts.  After cell phones are banned at school, kids begin leaving messages on Post-it notes which, because they are displayed for all to see, are often more hurtful.)

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall (Pearsall’s novel was published in 2015, and it’s become one of the books I hand to middle school students who are struggling to find a good book – one they will want to keep reading.  Pearsall’s novel hasn’t failed me yet!  Set in 1963, The Seventh Most Important Thing is the story of Arthur, a 13-year-old boy, who learns seven important lessons while helping a local “junk man” with his artistic masterpiece.)

York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby  (The first installment of a new series, set in an alternative New York City)

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge (500 pages of high fantasy and imaginative word play.  Link to the Guardian’s glowing review:

Refugee by Alan Gratz (This book will be published on July 25, but I recommended it to several of our students as an August read. Three young refugees from three different times and places: Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo. It’s on my August list!)

Literally by Lucy Keating (Maybe an unexpected choice for this list.  Literally is a smart beach book that plays with the conventions of the young adult romance.)

To prepare Inly’s summer reading list, I read lots of novels and early chapter books.  After the list was distributed, what I most craved was ….a picture book!  I looked for something new and beautiful, a book that stands out on the shelf, and here it is:

The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd-Stanton is magical from the end pages to the final scene. Erin, the little girl at the center of the story, lives in an idyllic seaside town with her “mum” and her dog, Archie. Erin desperately wants to “go out to sea,” but she can’t because of a scary black rock.  Everyone in town warns her to stay away from the rock which, naturally, makes Erin even more curious.  Ultimately, she finds a way to learn the truth, and it turns out to be quite lovely. School ended a few days ago, and I’m already planning to make The Secret of Black Rock our first read aloud in September!

During the last couple weeks of school, there are lots of events involving singing and speeches and ceremonies.  But the nicest hour, in my opinion, is the quiet that comes over the campus during Drop Everything and Read.  While everyone was reading, I walked around the silent campus and found readers on couches, under counters, and many other creative spaces…

Happy Reading!

Happy Summer!

Summer Reading: Part Three

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Today’s list: middle grade novels.  There are so many good ones – way too many to list here.  So like the first two lists (Summer Reading: Parts One and Two), I will stick to the new books.  Holes, Charlotte’s Web, and Bud, Not Buddy are on the list (along with many other classic children’s novels) along with these twenty recently published stories…..

For Kids Between the Ages of 8 and 12.  Great for the whole family as an evening read-aloud or on a road trip…

A Boy Called Bat by Elana Arnold (A story about a boy and his skunk, but Bat, the main character of this first installment in a new series is on the autism spectrum. It’s refreshing to read about a character who deals with something underrepresented in children’s books with a plot that is the star of the show!)

Sweet Home Alaska by Carole Estby Dagg (You can’t help but think about Laura Ingalls Wilder when you read this book. The setting is 1930s Alaska, but the challenges of life on the frontier and the themes of family and resilience are similar.)

Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres (a debut novel about a 7th grade girl whose family owns a food truck)

Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton (Henry likes to draw on his bedroom door. Everything is great until the dragon he draws comes to life!)

Lotteries Plus One by Emma Donoghue (Two couples with seven kids between them. All is going well until Grumps moves in. He’s doesn’t approve of what he sees: two same sex couples, a diverse group of kids, homeschooling. A fun family adventure.)

The Castle in the Mist by Amy Ephron (an old-fashioned fantasy that takes place in a castle in the English countryside)

Jack and the Geniuses by Bill Nye (Bill Nye the Science Guy has a new series! Gadgets and technology and genius kids working in a lab)

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar (A story based on the author’s story of growing up in New York as a young immigrant in the 1960s.  Good story in the Washington Post about the author. Link:

Panda-monium by Stuart Gibbs (Gibbs is my go-to author for reluctant readers.  They may check the first one out reluctantly, but they quickly return for the next book.)

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan (A lovely and timely book about a Muslim girl growing up and navigating all of the things that come along with being 13: family, friends, faith, tradition.  What I loved about this book is that it deals with universal themes of growing up, and yet is true to Amina’s experience as a young Muslim girl living in the 21st century.)

Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan (If you know a child who loves being on stage, this is the absolute best summer read for them. A celebration of theater!)

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia (I read this over the weekend and loved it.  Clayton Byrd loves his grandfather, a blues musician who has taught his young grandson to play the harmonica. When his grandfather dies, Clayton goes off on his own to search for the members of his grandfather’s blues band. This is the book I would recommend to a child who loves music.)

And for older readers, ages 10 and over…

Funny Girl. Funniest. Stories. Ever, edited by Betsy Bird (short stories by 25 female writers)

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng (one of the most moving books – for any age – that I’ve read this year.)

Armstrong and Charlie by Steven Frank (Two boys living in Los Angeles in the 1970s)

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy King (A friendship tale with an environmental message – and a touch of magical realism!)

Rooting for Rafael Rosales by Kurtis Scaletta

Horizon by Scott Westerfeld

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk (by the author of Wolf Hollow– this one is part of my summer book club at Buttonwood Books and Toys in Cohasset.)

Bronze and the Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan

One other note…..

I read over the weekend that there’s going to be a movie based on Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s New York Times Modern Love column about her husband.  Her essay, “You May Want to Marry My Husband, is being developed by Universal.

Summer Reading: Part Two


Today’s summer reading list is for emerging readers, kids who begin asking for chapter books . New readers are enthusiastic, and their book list is a long one, including classics like Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel and the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker.  Those books are well known, but there are many recently published books for the new reader in your life.  Here are ten books to “check out” this summer:

Wolfie and Fly by Cary Fagan (celebrating the joys and possibilities of a cardboard box – and making new friends)

The Adventures of Sophie Mouse by Poppy Green (this quickly became one of the most popular series in our school library. Many of the  first and second graders traded them, talked about them, and asked to “be first” when there was a new one!)

DATA series by Ada Hopper (I’m thinking of a second grade boy who raced through these as fast as he could.  We would leave the “next book” on our desk in the morning so he could come in to return the one he read the night before – and start reading)

Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami (a stand-alone early chapter book and one of my favorite books of the year – a great book to teach that small actions can make a big difference)

The Infamous Ratsos by Kara LaReau (two rats want to show their dad how tough they are, but things don’t go according to plan.  Sequel will be out in September)

The Claude books by Alex T. Smith (I didn’t do enough to push Claude this year, but will fix that in September.  A beret-wearing dog’s adventures with his friend Sir Bobblysock who is, actually, a sock.)

Charlie and Mouse by Laurel Snyder (the episodic adventures of two brothers)

Hilo series by Judd Winnick (a really popular series in our library – a story of bravery and robots!)

And two books from our nonfiction list:

Margaret and the Moon by Dean Robbins (the life of a young girl who grew up to be a NASA software engineer for Project Apollo)

Coral Reefs by Jason Chin (All of Chin’s nature books are inspiring and beautiful. This one is an introduction to coral reefs.)

One more book that didn’t make it onto Inly’s list….

The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry by Danna Smith is one of those books that a child will probably not find on their own, but will be grateful if you lead them to it. The story of a medieval girl who learns about falconry from her father, the book follows them training a hawk for a hunt and includes sidebars with interesting facts. For example, the hawks wear bells on their legs so the falconer can hear them after they’ve caught their prey.  Bagram Ibatoulline’s illustrations are stunning and realistic, but luckily they spare the viewer any “too realistic” views.   I would recommend it to readers between the ages of 7 and 12.

Happy Reading!

Literally – Romance and Lambs

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Every year, usually during the spring book fair, I notice a few middle school kids who show some interest in reading romance novels.  I watch them scan the room to see if anyone is looking before picking up a romance and peeking through it – and my heart goes out to them.  Of course, they’re curious!  When I was their age, I read Harlequin romance novels at my grandmother’s house and went through an obsession with Maureen Daly’s novel, Seventeenth Summer.

I can easily recall a scene early in the book where Jack arrives at Angie’s house to see if her family wants to buy any baked goods.  She’s working in the garden.  Here’s the passage from my own copy of the book which is pictured above.

Now, it wasn’t that I was shy or anything, but it’s awkward when a boy has on a clean shirt and his hair is combed and your hands are all muddy and you’re in your bare feet.

It can be challenging, though, to recommend romance novels to middle school students in 2017.  The Young Adult section at the local bookstore has lots of choices, but much of the content is too explicit to be recommended by a teacher.  And middle school kids deserve books that represent what they are feeling: curious, sometimes awkward, and maybe excited about a new relationship but one with respectful boundaries.

Thinking about new books for the middle school summer reading list, I found Literally by Lucy Keating, a romance novel with an intriguing premise. The main character, Annabelle, has a seemingly perfect life in Los Angeles.  She lives in a great house, has lots of friends, and takes pride in her ability to keep everything under control.  But then an author, Lucy Keating, speaks to Annabelle’s creative writing class, and things get a little strange. Lucy Keating begins describing the main character of her new novel, and it’s Annabelle!  She describes Annabelle’s life perfectly and even knows that her parents are going through a stressful time.  Understandably, it creeps Annabelle out and makes her wonder if she is really in charge or if someone else is “writing the plot.”  The real author, Lucy Keating, clearly had fun playing with the structure of fiction and having a little fun with how YA novels work.  There’s also a love triangle, and one of the boys was written just for Annabelle!

Yesterday, in honor of Independent Bookstore Day, I went to an author panel of middle grade writers, sponsored by my favorite bookstore, Buttonwood Books and Toys in Cohasset.  A good line-up: Victoria Coe, author of Fenway and Hattie; Bridget Hodder, author of The Rat Prince; Lee Gjertsen Malone, author of The Last Boy at St. Edith’s; Erin Petti, author of The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee; Laura Shovan, the author of The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary; and Monica Tesler, author of the Bounders series.  

Monica’s first two sic-fi space adventures, Earth Force Rising and The Tundra Trials are in bookstores and libraries now, and there are three more to go in her series.  Yesterday she brought the beautiful cover of her third book, The Forgotten Shrine, which will be published in early December.

I read The Last Boy at St. Edith’s last summer with a group of kids at Buttonwood so I was especially happy to meet Lee Malone, the book’s author. The story of the last boy to attend an all-girls school is warm-hearted and funny. Lee told us that the book was inspired when she looked at a mailing from her husband’s boarding school which had successfully transitioned to a co-ed school years earlier.  She wondered what would happen if, in her words, “It didn’t work.”

I left the event with lots of new books to order for the school library and a few new ones on my “to be read” list.

And in pictures…

One of my students spends lots of time at a local farm and took these awesome pictures of new lambs.  There’s always a black sheep, isn’t there?

And there’s this….

Happy Reading!



Two New Books About New York City…

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I bought a book based on its cover, and as it turns out, it’s kind of magic.  I had actually read a starred Kirkus review of The Goat by Anne Fleming before ordering it for school, but truthfully, it was the cover that moved it to the purchase column.

I spent two hours reading it yesterday and then bought my own copy last night to keep on my nightstand. It seems to have cast a spell over me – one that has sent me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website to learn about the Tomb of Perneb. If you decide to do some research before reading it, here’s the website:

The book is about a girl named Kid (kind of funny given the book’s title!) who travels to New York City with her parents while her mother’s off-Broadway play is in production. They are also dog sitting for Kid’s uncle who is traveling in Europe.  As soon as she arrives, Kid hears a rumor about a goat that lives on the top of their apartment building.  The goat is what grounds the story, but it’s Kid’s neighbors who make this a special book.  There is a boy named Will whose parents died in the Twin Towers, an older man suffering the effects of a stroke, and a blind writer who skateboards down the streets of Midtown Manhattan.

This is not a book for every child.  It is complicated to follow – quiet and mature.  The novels by E.L. Konigsburg were on my mind, especially From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  In fact, I kept thinking of the book club possibilities of reading The Goat, From the Mixed-Up Files, and When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.

The other new book I brought home to read this weekend is a new picture book, When Jackie Saved Grand Central: The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy’s Fight for an American Icon by Natasha Wing.  This book was on my “watch list” before it was published. When I worked at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, I often walked by a screen playing excerpts from Mrs. Kennedy’s 1962 televised tour of the White House and understood her deep commitment to art and history.  I also knew bits and pieces about her integral role in saving Grand Central Station, which there were plans to demolish in the mid-1970s.  Wing’s book is important, the story of a successful campaign to save a national landmark.  When Jackie Saved Grand Central would be a good book for young fans of New York City and future community organizers!

Last Week in Pictures….

Two candid pictures of kids reading in the library.  I love how the boys are sitting!

As part of their studies of WWI, a group of middle school students recently read War Horse by Michael Morpurgo.  Here’s one student’s artistic interpretation of the story’s main characters.  Horses are hard to draw – she’s good!

My sister was in Asheville, North Carolina last weekend and sent this image from Malaprop’s Bookstore.  The same image could be used for school librarians with some minor tweaks!

And finally, a touch of spring….

A Hat, A Crocodile, Pictures, and a Big Number


If you walked into the school library before school starts in the morning, you might find Mary and I choosing a book to read to our Children’s House students.  It’s not as simple as it seems.  There are many wonderful books for young readers, but reading to a group of three and four-year-old kids requires a special kind of book.  It can’t be too long.  It can’t be a story that is better shared one-on-one.  Also, the story can’t be too complicated or rely on looking closely at the illustrations because of the group setting. And most importantly, the perfect book makes kids laugh.

A Good Day For a Hat by T. Nat Fuller checks every box.  It’s bright and funny, and I can’t think of a young child who won’t love it.  “Today is a good day for a hat,” says Mr. Brown the bear on the first page.  But when he opens the front door and sees rain, he goes back inside to get his rain hat.  The craziness continues when the rain turns to snow, a parade goes by, and a rodeo comes to town. Luckily, Mr Brown is prepared for every occasion!

After reading A Good Day For a Hat, I didn’t expect to be equally enthusiastic about the next new book on my list, but with Laura Amy Schlitz and Brian Floca’s names on the book cover, I felt anticipatory happiness.  Schlitz can apparently write for every age with equal sparkle.  She is the author of the beautiful young adult novel, The Hired Girl and the Newbery-winning Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!  Her new early chapter book, Princess Cora and the Crocodile is witty and charming and a perfect read aloud.  Young listeners, especially those with crowded after-school schedules, will love it because it’s not only funny, but it puts kids in charge of teaching the adults a lesson about the importance of free time.

Pictures from last week….

A 4th grade student trying to select a book.  The assignment is to read a “classic” children’s novel. She is understandably torn, but I tried to explain that the books aren’t going anywhere!  She can read one now and then come back for another one later.  The books are: Sarah Plain and Tall, Holes, Dear Mr. Henshaw, The Secret Garden, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond.  She really can’t go wrong…..

It’s always fun to see the book projects our 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders make, but this one caught my attention from across the room.  A salute to Dayton’s most well-known inventors.

And a look ahead to Kate DiCamillo’s next book.  La La La: A Story of Hope will be released on October 3.

Lastly, the big number.  Drumroll please…..

This is my 900th post!   Happy Reading….

The Kids Have a Point…

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A friend recently asked if I could recommend a book for her 7th grade son that is “not as depressing” as what he reads in school and much of what they find in bookstores.  It was not the first time I’ve heard that question. A few years ago, a 6th grade girl, browsing in the school book fair, said: “it seems like every book is sad.”  I try to keep a mental list of titles to recommend when faced with this question: The Great Green Heist by Varian Johnson, The Last Boy at St. Edith’s by Lee Gjertsen Malone, The Wild Robot by Peter Brown, and Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, among others.  But they have a point.

Earlier today, while reading reviews of book I’m considering for Inly’s summer reading list, these lines jumped out at me:

“When thirteen-year-old Stevie Grace Tanner’s parents are killed in a freak accident, their deaths uncover a wealth of family secrets….”

“After his father dies, twelve-year-old Flip has to leave Amsterdam for Mossum, a remote island in the North Sea, to live on his uncle’s farm.”

“Clair and Abigal have few memories of their mother – she died when they were very young….”

“After her mother was murdered in cold blood….”

“Constantly on the move after her father’s death, Calliope June Snow (Calli) arrives in St. George, Utah, with her lovelorn mother, a few suitcases, and an egg carton rock collection.”

There are lots of wonderful new books – and I definitely cherry-picked the lines above to make my case, but Harry Potter is only one character in a long line of orphans.

I understand why authors make this decision.  The readers of middle grade and young adult realistic fiction are starting to crave some independence. They want to act rather than being acted upon.  The process of “coming of age” is necessarily part of a separation – kids want to see other kids solve problems themselves rather than being saved by a well-meaning parent or guardian who comes to their rescue or provides them with “the answer.”  That being said, I would like to see more middle grade novels in which the young protagonist has to navigate adolescence with their families. That is the reality for many young readers, and those changing relationships are rich with material for a novel.

I recently reviewed Nicole Helget’s new novel, The End of the Wild, for School Library Journal.  A timely and worthwhile read.  Here’s an excerpt from my review:

“Eleven-year-old Fern has more responsibilities than most kids her age. Since her mother and baby sister’s death in a car crash two years earlier, she has lived with her stepfather, Toivo, and her two younger brothers. Fern works hard to help keep her poor family together.  Toivo, a veteran of the Iraq War, has been unemployed since losing his job as a mechanic, and although he does odd jobs to support his family, he drinks too much and the family struggles to keep food on the table. Fern is central to the family’s success. Their house is surrounded by woods that, as her name suggests, Fern treasures as both sanctuary and food basket…..Fern is struggling to select a project for the school’s STEM fair, when she learns that her beloved woods are being considered for a wastewater pond for a fracking company… excellent book for a young reader who is interested in learning about one of today’s most complex environmental issues.  Fern is a likeable character who is, in her words, learning “what kind of adult do I want to be.” A worthy goal.”

Finally, I highly recommend this article from today’s New York Times:

Note: The banner photo was taken from Inly’s school library where you can see the maker space downstairs.