fantasy

Author Focus: Jennifer L. Holm

I have noticed the covers of Jennifer L. Holm’s numerous books on the shelves of our school and public libraries for years. Last month, I picked one up for the first time. Followed by another, and another until I’d read a good chunk of them. I am now a fan.

If you are looking for quality middle grade books for almost any kind of reader, Jennifer L. Holm might be just the author you are looking for. A few of the categories her books fall into include: historical fiction, science-themed stories, novels starring girls, books starring boys, a pinch of fantasy, humor, and a host of graphic novels that she co-wrote with her brother Matthew Holm.

Plus, her stories are really good!

Many of her novels are based on or inspired by stories of Jennifer’s own family. I learned bits of history that I never knew before, discovered characters I loved, laughed, cried and was thoroughly entertained by the stories that fill up her books.

The following books are excellent middle grade reads (including 3 Newbery Honor books) and I am excited to recommend them to you.

Savvy

Who wouldn’t want to receive a special power, or savvy, on their 13th birthday? Whether it is the power to cause a hurricane or the ability to be practically perfect at everything, the possibilities are endless.

I loved the premise of this book. It is creative and fun and when I started I was looking forward to the adventure. I wasn’t, however, expecting the depth and thoughtfulness that came with it. This is a special book with a whole lot of food for thought wrapped inside a creative story making it an excellent book to read.

Author Focus: Grace Lin

Today marks the beginning of the Spring Festival in China, better known as Chinese New Year. I thought that made it the perfect day to talk about one of our family’s favorite authors, Grace Lin.

Grace Lin is an author-illustrator of numerous picture books, easy readers and novels for young readers. While her books are fiction, most of her stories are inspired by real life.

As a multi-racial family (two of our kids were born in China), I love the connection Grace’s books give them to their country of origin. We have used her picture books to help us learn about and celebrate different Chinese holidays, like Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. Her Pacy-Lin novels give my kids a relatable character that looks like them. Her Chinese folklore novels (including one of my very favorites, Newbery Honor book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon) give my kids a glimpse into the world of Chinese fairy tales as well as takes them on an epic adventure.

Sweep

One part fantasy, one part historical fiction and three parts wonderful, Jonathan Auxier’s most recent release is a must-read. This story is filled with friendship, wonder, sadness and injustice; it has all the feels. Thankfully, it ends with large doses of hope and redemption. It’s the kind of book that brings the best kind of sigh at the end of the last page.

Nan, the main character, is smart and wise beyond her years. Since her Sweep left her, five years ago, she has a hard time letting anyone else in. When she finally meets Charlie, a gift from the Sweep, their friendship is sweet and fierce. They are characters that you can’t help but fall in love with and Charlie is the most endearing monster you will ever meet. They make a great team. The story moves along at a good clip, highlighting the plight of children sweeps, the wonder of new discoveries, and the joy of friendship.

11-year-old Girl Seeking Books with a Hook

Ava is an eleven-year-old girl who loves to read. She loves reading because it takes her into new worlds and occupies her mind. There are so many different stories to read and learn from; she loves to discover them. When she’s not reading, Ava likes to play games and play soccer.

When looking for a good book, Ava especially likes fantasy and realistic fiction. The Harry Potter series is one of her very favorites; she has read them more than once. She stays away from graphic novels because they don’t interest her and feel harder to read.

Ava has no problem abandoning a book if it doesn’t keep her interest or is hard to understand. If you are a kid looking for a good book, Ava recommends that you ask your siblings, parents, grandparents and friends for recommendations.

I am excited to give Ava a few personalized picks. To help me help her, I asked Ava to share three of her favorite books and one she was not so crazy about. Here are her favorites:

Happy Anniversary Giveaway!

One year ago today, the first official book list was posted on the Young Book Love website. (It contained a great list of Wonder-like books you can find here.) Today almost 100 posts later, it is my honor to continue to help you, dear reader, discover books your kids will fall for.

To celebrate, I wanted to give back to you in the form of a giveaway.

Over the past year, I have highlighted my favorite books under the category of Shelf Talker. I love reading shelf talkers at books stores and libraries; they are helpful resources when deciding what book to buy or read. My hope is the Shelf Talkers on this blog provide the same kind of service for you.

There have been a total of 24 Shelf Talker posts over the past year. As I recently read through this list of books I couldn’t help thinking, “Oh, I love that book!,” an embarrassing number of times.

I decided these books were just so good, I had to pass them on in a more tangible way, which brings me to the giveaway!

Chapter Books for New Readers - a book list

When our kids learn to read, it is a big deal. Easy readers are a great and obvious place to start. Once our kids master the easy reader, it’s time to dip their toes into the wonderful world of chapter books.

There are a lot of series that help kids make this transition. Magic Tree House and June B. Jones come to mind. Short, entertaining and abundant these are the books that move our kids into the world of chapter books and independent reading.

Today’s list includes some of my recent discoveries in the beginner chapter book genre. These books are geared towards early readers, but they are all so good readers of any age can enjoy them. A few are stand alone books, a few are series. If you have a new reader, check them out and be sure to read along with your child. I know you will enjoy them too.

Mysterious, Classic, Scary and Sweet - a Fall booklist perfect for cold nights and cozy blankets

Fall is the perfect time for reading. The shorter days and colder nights drive us inside and create the ideal opportunity to snuggle up with a cozy blanket and a good book.

Yep, Autumn and reading go together like peanut butter and jelly, a classic combination.

There are certain genres of books that feel especially appropriate this time of year. Cold and gray outsides, make the insides extra cozy and the thought of diving into a thick book or classic work more inviting. Shorter days and longer evenings can be motivating to start a longer series of books. A spooky story or compelling mystery can be just the thing to set the mood for a late night read in bed while the wind howls outside the window.

Today’s list contains ideas and recommendations from all of these categories, making it a fairly diverse list. If you have a sensitive reader, some of these books might not be a good match. But, if your young reader enjoys the thrill of a scary story every once in awhile, I am excited to share some new discoveries.

Wherever your child falls on the spooky spectrum, I think today’s list has a little bit for everyone. Hopefully you will find the perfect book for your kids to dive into this Fall, to read on their own or to share together.

Exploring Castles and Dealing with Dragons - a book list

A little over a month ago I had the opportunity to travel to Scotland. Throughout our visit we hiked trails, rode trains, toured castles and (of course) looked for Nessie all amidst beautiful and varied landscapes. At times, it felt like we were in another world, a world where fairies and dragons most definitely exist.

Now that we are home, I will grudgingly admit that these fantastical creatures (probably) don’t exist. But, I will always be thankful they ARE meant to live in our imaginations and come alive through the telling of fairy tales and the reading of good books. Scotland was a place where their existence felt possible and that is one of many reasons why I hope to return.

Until then, I am thankful for books filled with castles and dragons that give us the opportunity to get lost in a good story and visit far-off lands.

Today’s list, inspired in part by Scotand, contains books and series where castles come alive, dragons live and peasant girls try to become princesses.

Author Focus: Jennifer A. Nielsen

We (and I say “we” a lot in this post, because Jennifer Nielsen books have become a family affair) were first introduced to Jennifer A. Nielsen through her historical fiction novel, A Night Divided. While I haven’t read it yet, most of my kids have. They love it and are continually shocked when they remember I haven’t read it yet. If you ask us for a historical fiction recommendation, A Night Divided will surely be on the list.

My oldest picked up the first book in the Ascendence Trilogy, The False Prince when she was in junior high. She was hooked. She couldn’t stop reading until she had finished all three books. The same was true of my son when he read it this past summer. This fantasy series is full of high adventure, twists, turns and a good dose of humor. It is a lot of fun and has become a favorite at our house.

I finished Nielsen’s newest book Resistance this week. Resistance is another historical fiction novel and in my opinion it is her best yet. Set in Poland just before the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, it follows a young Jewish girl determined to do everything she can to fight the Nazi’s. It was excellent. I have told my kids they HAVE to read it.

With such strong feelings towards so many of her books, I wanted to share them with you. Below are short descriptions of Nielsen’s books. Most fall in the fantasy genre, but the two historical fictions listed we highly recommend.

If you are looking for quality books for your teens and pre-teens, Jennifer A. Nielsen would be a great author to try.

Quick Picks: What My Kids are Reading

As I have been blessed with a large passel of kids with a variety of ages, interests, and reading likes and dislikes, I thought I’d do a “quick pick” list inspired by them. Below are the books my kids are currently reading. If you are looking for ideas for your young reader, maybe one these books will inspire them.

Recommended Reading for your Teenager from Mine

I am often asked for recommendations for readers that fall into the teenage sector. It can be hard to find books that capture their attention and aren’t overrun with sex, violence and language. So, I asked my teen reader for her recommendations. She gave me a list of eleven. A few have been pulled from middle-grade shelves and one is geared towards adults, but the majority come from the YA shelves of our library. Maybe one of them will spark the interest of your teen reader.

From Amazon: Fifteen-year-old Lina is a Lithuanian girl living an ordinary life -- until Soviet officers invade her home and tear her family apart. Separated from her father and forced onto a crowded train, Lina, her mother, and her young brother make their way to a Siberian work camp, where they are forced to fight for their lives. Lina finds solace in her art, documenting these events by drawing. Risking everything, she imbeds clues in her drawings of their location and secretly passes them along, hoping her drawings will make their way to her father's prison camp. But will strength, love, and hope be enough for Lina and her family to survive?

From Mya: I love the sense of community between the people and the family in this book as they travel through labor camps and other hard trials. I also love the kind, loving and determined mother in this story.

From Amazon: World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

Told in alternating points of view and perfect for fans of Anthony Doerr's Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, Erik Larson's Dead Wake, and Elizabeth Wein's Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this masterful work of historical fiction is inspired by the real-life tragedy that was the sinking of the
 Wilhelm Gustloffthe greatest maritime disaster in history. As she did in Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity and love can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.

From Mya: I had never heard of this ship sinking and I was astounded and horror struck by the story. This book is amazing at portraying the emotions and trials at the end of World War II in Germany. I couldn’t put it down.

From Amazon: Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones. With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

From Mya: I love the character of Cal and how she is always trying to learn new things and how she doesn’t follow the norms of the time period. I also really loved her relationship with her grandpa.

From Amazon: Fifteen-year-old Amadou counts the things that matter. For two years what has mattered are the number of cacao pods he and his younger brother, Seydou, can chop down in a day. The higher the number the safer they are. The higher the number the closer they are to paying off their debt and returning home. Maybe. The problem is Amadou doesn’t know how much he and Seydou owe, and the bosses won’t tell him. The boys only wanted to make money to help their impoverished family, instead they were tricked into forced labor on a plantation in the Ivory Coast. With no hope of escape, all they can do is try their best to stay alive—until Khadija comes into their lives. 

She’s the first girl who’s ever come to camp, and she’s a wild thing. She fights bravely every day, attempting escape again and again, reminding Amadou what it means to be free. But finally, the bosses break her, and what happens next to the brother he has always tried to protect almost breaks Amadou. The three band together as family and try just once more to escape.

Inspired by true-to-life events happening right now, The Bitter Side of Sweet is an exquisitely written tour de force not to be missed. 

From Mya: I love this book because it was a story that I had never heard of before. I also love how close the brothers were to each other and how they looked out for each other. I hate that this actually happens and isn’t always a happy ending.

From Amazon: In this companion novel to The Wednesday Wars, Doug struggles to be more than the "skinny thug" that some people think him to be. He finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer, who gives him the strength to endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a town, and the return of his oldest brother, forever scarred, from Vietnam. Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival.

From Mya: This book is sooo good! I love it because of it’s Jane Eyre references (one of my favorites!). And, I love how this kid hates everything about the town he moves to, but as life goes on he falls in love with it.

From Amazon: As the fiftieth anniversary approaches, there's a renewed interest in this infamous 1955 murder case, which made a lasting mark on American culture, as well as the future Civil Rights Movement. Chris Crowe's IRA Award-winning novel and his gripping, photo-illustrated nonfiction work are currently the only books on the teenager's murder written for young adults.

From Mya: This book told the story of Emit Till and his murder case from an unbiased perspective. It was thought-provoking and a book I was glad I read.

From Amazon: In the four most bloody and courageous days of our nation’s history, two armies fought for two conflicting dreams. One dreamed of freedom, the other of a way of life. Far more than rifles and bullets were carried into battle. There were memories. There were promises. There was love. And far more than men fell on those Pennsylvania fields. Bright futures, untested innocence, and pristine beauty were also the casualties of war. Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece is unique, sweeping, unforgettable—the dramatic story of the battleground for America’s destiny.

From Mya: I love, love, love how this book gave me a totally new perspective on the Battle of Gettysburg. I also love how the author gives you a good understanding of the men who fought in that battle in a way that makes you root for them as the story is told.

From Amazon: It was the summer of storms and strays and strangers. The summer that lightning struck the big oak tree in the front yard. The summer his mother died in a tragic accident. As he recalls the tumultuous events that launched a surprising journey, Samuel can still hardly believe it all happened.

After his mother's death, twelve-year-old Samuel Chambers would do anything to bring her back. Prompted by three strange carnival fortune-tellers and the surfacing of his mysterious and reclusive neighbor, Sam begins his search for the Tree of Life--the only thing that could possibly bring his mother back. His quest to defeat death entangles him and his best friend Abra in an ancient conflict and forces Sam to grapple with an unwelcome question: could it be possible that death is a gift? 

From Mya: This was a good book. It did a good job of showing the pain of a loved one’s death and the fight between good and evil during that time. I am looking forward to reading the sequel!

From Amazon: As twelve-year-old Marlee starts middle school in 1958 Little Rock, it feels like her whole world is falling apart. Until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is everything Marlee wishes she could be: she's brave, brash and always knows the right thing to say. But when Liz leaves school without even a good-bye, the rumor is that Liz was caught passing for white. Marlee decides that doesn't matter. She just wants her friend back. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are even willing to take on segregation and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.

From Mya: I love how the main character wants to fight for what is right even though it might risk the safety of everyone she cares about. I could relate with her and really loved reading this book.

From Amazon: It's 1943, and eleven-year-old Dewey Kerrigan is en route to New Mexico to live with her mathematician father. Soon she arrives at a town that, officially, doesn't exist. It is called Los Alamos, and it is abuzz with activity, as scientists and mathematicians from all over America and Europe work on the biggest secret of all--"the gadget." None of them--not J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project; not the mathematicians and scientists; and least of all, Dewey--know how much "the gadget" is about to change their lives.

From Mya: This book gave me a new perspective on the atomic bomb and what it might have been like for the families of the scientist who worked on it. I really enjoyed reading it.

From Amazon: The New York Times bestselling true story of an all-American girl and a boy from Zimbabwe and the letter that changed both of their lives forever.

It started as an assignment. Everyone in Caitlin's class wrote to an unknown student somewhere in a distant place. 

Martin was lucky to even receive a pen-pal letter. There were only ten letters, and fifty kids in his class. But he was the top student, so he got the first one.

That letter was the beginning of a correspondence that spanned six years and changed two lives.

In this compelling dual memoir, Caitlin and Martin recount how they became best friends --and better people--through their long-distance exchange. Their story will inspire you to look beyond your own life and wonder about the world at large and your place in it.

From Mya: The amazing thing about reading this book is getting to watch this unique relationship survive and bloom even though hardship and distance. Their friendship was so special and powerful to read about. My coach told me the audio book is amazing too.

Let’s keep the list going. What have your teens been reading that they would recommend?

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Epic Adventures and Where to Find Them

One of my favorite types of book to fall into include book series of epic proportions. I love stories that pull you into the long-standing battle of good verses evil along with tales of sacrifice, courage and doing hard things. 

There are a few obvious books that come to mind in this category. The Chronicles of Narnia is one of my all-time favorite series. The Lord the Rings is another. Hidden within the pages of these books are moments of profound insight and wisdom that have shaped my life. They hold scenes that I think of when I need a dose of courage in my real-life decisions. 

Of course, Harry Potter also falls into this category. This series is fully entertaining and so hard to put down. If your child gets lost in the first one, chances are he or she will want to keep reading to see how the saga ends. 

One thing I love even more than getting lost in an epic saga is watching a story pull my kids in hard. It is even better when that story leads to a request for the next book from the library ASAP.

If your kids love to get lost inside of an epic adventure or have never tried, this list is for you. Below are five series my kids and I have loved that might be good fits for your kids too. Some of them have profound insight and wisdom sprinkled inside (if you look for it), all of them are epic in nature with excellent stories at their heart. 

Book #3: Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

My kids are back in school and I am excited to get back to sharing books with you. To transition into business as usual, I'm starting things off by highlighting my favorite reads from this summer. Today is day 3; let me tell you about book 3.

Book #3:  Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

Book #1: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

My kids are back in school and I am excited to get back to sharing books. I have not spent a lot of time on this little piece of internet this summer, but, I have absolutely been reading. To transition into business as usual, I thought I’d start things off by sharing my favorite summer reads. Every day this week I will talk about a different book that left its mark. 

Book #1:  The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Quick Pick Books for When Your Kids Don't Know What to Read Next

Have you ever walked into your local public library with your kids determined to emerge well-stocked with armloads of books only to find yourselves overwhelmed and unsure what books to pluck from their overstuffed shelves?

Me too! 

With so many options, it can be challenging to figure out exactly what book to read next. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, here are 10 books (covering a variety of genres and ages) to give you some direction. The next time your kids feel library overload, see if they'd like to give one of these stories a try: 

Amazing Audio Books To Listen to on your Summer Vacation

Good listening material is essential over the summer, whether it be for long road trips, short excursions around town, or something to listen to quietly in your room. Audio books offer an excellent source of listening material that the whole family can enjoy both together or on their own. 

Our family has not listened to a huge number of audio books yet.  I have, however, been pulling together a list of potential listening material for our upcoming road trip.

To help me with my list and maybe with yours, I asked a friend whose family loves listening to audiobooks together to share a few of their favorites. 

Whatever your listening needs are this summer, consider the following list of audio book recommendations from Sharlin and her family:

The Underneath

I started this book because I was looking for dog stories for my nine-year-old son. Specifically a dog story that did not end with the dog dying as so many of them do. Pretty much from the first page, maybe even the first sentence I knew this was not the book I was looking for. (I did however put a list together of books with non-dying dogs here.)

The chapters were short (a good thing for my boy), however the language was too flowery, almost poetic (something I loved, but did not think my son would be as enthusiastic about). And while the story moved along for the most part, I don’t think it moved along fast enough to fully capture his interest, which I admit is not easily captured by a book that is not Big Nate. Nevertheless, while The Underneath might not be a good choice for my son at this point in time, it was definitely a story worth reading and one that I would heartily recommend.

Author Focus: Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamillo is one of my favorite authors. She is a storyteller extrodinaire. Her characters are rich. Her word choice is perfect. She captures emotion in a way that very few can. I haven’t read all of her books yet, but I have read most and each one is special.

My kids have also connected with her work. In fact, my most reluctant reader would say that two of her books are among his favorites. Her books are some of my favorites to recommend. If you or your young reader are looking for something to read, you can’t go wrong with a Kate DiCamillo book.

Below are some of my favorites. 

Quick Picks: What I've Been Reading

You know that feeling when you finish a good book and you just want to tell someone about it?  I've got that feeling! They are books that don't quite fit any of the upcoming book lists that will be appearing on the blog. But, I can't wait to share them... so I won't. 

Below are four books I read over the past month and had to share now.