realistic fiction

Quick Picks: What I’ve Been Reading

You know the feeling when you finish a good book and you want to tell someone about it?  Well, I've got that feeling. This list of books doesn’t fit on any of the upcoming book lists I have planned. I wanted to share them anyway.

If your kids are participating in the Young Book Love Bingo Reading Challenge, the books on this list will help them fill in the square “a book about someone who doesn’t look like you.” (The characters include people from Pakistan and India along with Americans with different shades of skin.) If your kids aren’t participating in the Reading Challenge and want to, you can find out more (and print off a free Bingo board) here.

Below are four books I read over the past month that I am excited to recommend. I hope your young reader will connect with them too.

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.

Home of the Brave

You know a book is special when find yourself continually stopping to record the words you have just read so you can sit with them a little longer and read them again some day. While most kids won’t have that urge, I believe this is a book they will love and remember.

Written as a novel in verse, Home of the Brave is easy to start and easy to finish. Following along with Kek as he journeys to America for the first time is truly a great adventure. Whether it is running a washing machine or going to the grocery store, Kek’s wonder at all he encounters will give you a fresh perspective and remind you how lucky we are.

Stranger in a New Land: Six Books for Kids (and Teens) Based on the Refugee/Immigrant Experience

Refugees have been an on-going story in our world as long as there have been stories. A few years back when the Syrian refugee crisis was full-blown, it was hard for me to process. The numbers, the news reports, even the pictures, they all started to blend together. Those mediums have their place, but to read the personal story of one person can have a more profound effect than a million statistics or news reports.

Books and the stories they contain can be an amazing tool to help our kids (and ourselves) process what is going on in the world around us. As we read, learn and empathize, these stories can help us interact with our own world in a new way. We might not be able to have a direct impact on a Syrian refugee, but we can have an impact on the new kid (or their parent) who feels alone.

With that in mind, today’s list contains six books. A few of the books tell the refugee’s story as he/she flees their home country. Others are made up of characters who are living in America as immigrants. All of them give insight into what it would feel like to leave your home and start over in a strange new land. This list of books is special offering readers relatable characters they will easily root for and identify with. They also simply contain good stories that I hope your kids will enjoy as they read.

10 Book-Based Movies Worth Watching

“The book was better” is a common mantra proudly proclaimed by bookworms everywhere. While this may be true, the movie version often has its merits. Not only that, a good story told is a good story told whether it comes to us via printed words or on a DVD.

If your young reader is a purist and the movie does not follow the book exactly, watching the movie version will probably end in disappointment. However, if you have a hard time convincing your young reader to pick up a book, watching the movie might be the motivator they need to get reading.

While I usually try to read the book first, most of the movies on this list I watched, loved, discovered they were based on a book and then read the book. When I watch a movie after I’ve read the book I try to keep an open mind. I don’t mind if the movie departs from the book or adds new plot twists, as long as it keeps the feel of the book. Every once in a while the book has been the disappointment. (Mary Poppins is one example that comes to mind. I love the movie so much, and the book just didn’t come close.)

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.

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:

The One Crazy Summer Trilogy

Can I tell you how much I love Delphine and her sisters, cause I surely do!

I finished the second book of this trilogy, P.S. Be Eleven, a few weeks ago (after finishing the third, Gone Crazy in Alabama, last year) and was reminded again of how special these books, and these girls are.

The Newbery's of 1999

Several years ago, I set a goal to read all the Newbery award and honor books. You can read more about the award and my goal here. It’s a big goal that includes a lot of books over a lot of years, but book nerd that I am, I am so up for it! That said, it’s time for another Newbery Challenge post. Oh yeah!!

Today we are heading back to 1999. But, before we get to the books, here are a few other things that were going on:

In 1999 Pokemon was taking the toy world by storm. Y2K was approaching and making everyone nervous. Star Wars Episode 1, The Sixth Sense and Toy Story 2 were the box office favorites. Meanwhile on TV, everyone was watching Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and ER. And if those fun facts don’t take you back, maybe knowing that the words “blog” and “chillax” had just been added to the dictionary will.

The books that follow may have been written in 1999, but thankfully, good books have staying power. This year’s Newbery list was short and sweet AND contains two books that I would absolutely recommend almost 20 years later.

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!

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.

Louisiana's Way Home

If you have followed this blog for any period of time, you will know that Kate DiCamillo is one of my favorite authors. Louisiana’s Way Home is her most recent release. When I saw a copy at my local library, I grabbed it without hesitation and started to read. I began to read even though I had an entire list of books waiting on me that I probably should have read first.

There is always a bit of trepidation when you start a new book from one of your favorite authors. You can’t help but put pressure on the new book to live up to your expectations. There is also a lot of excitement that comes with the possibility of another story to fall in love with.

This book lived up to my very high expectations. In fact, I immediately purchased my own copy after I finished my library’s so I could revisit the story, underline the words that I loved and share it with others.

The Year of the Dog and other Pacy Lin Novels

The Year of the Dog is a work of fiction, but almost everything in this story and the two Pacy Lin novels that follow are based on real life inspirations from the author’s life. I think that is part of what makes this trio of books so special.

There are so many things I love about these books. The stories are shared simply with lovely illustrations sprinkled throughout. I love the Chinese traditions the main characters celebrate and discuss and I love the emphasis on story telling. There are many “stories within a story” as Pacy’s mom and others share about their childhoods. This multi-generational element adds a special touch to the books.

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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Family Stories that Spark the Imagination

There are certain books that jumpstart the imagination quicker than others. I would imagine the type of book that does this best is a little different for everyone. The Trolley Car Family by Eleanor Clymer was one of those books for me.

The Trolley Car Family is the story of a family that suddenly finds themselves in a tough situation. The dad, a trolley car driver looses his job because all the trolley cars in the city are being replaced by buses. Eventually the family decides to move the trolley car out into the country and live in it. 

There was something about setting up the trolley car as a home and figuring out life in a new place that would get my imagination going the multiple times I read it. I remember thinking about that trolley car and designing my own hideaway. I would look for houses or forts behind bushes and up in trees. I would imagine what it would be like to set up house and live in a new environment like they did in the book. 

I loved how the kids had a level of independence that allowed them to explore and imagine and contribute. It was inspiring to me as a child and I still love reading these types of books as an adult. They take me back to my childhood and they still spark my imagination.

Today’s list contains books in this vein. These are books filled with families and children living and learning together. They are books where kids are allowed to have adventures. They are books in which ordinary days are filled with ordinary-turned-extraordinary adventures through the magic of storytelling. They are some of my very favorites.

Book #4: Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

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 thought I’d start things off by highlighting my favorite reads from this summer. 

Book #4:  Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Book #2: The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan

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 2; let me tell you about book 2.

Book #2:  The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan

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: 

Author Focus: Gordon Korman

When my almost teen boys find an author they like AND I notice them reading more than one of his books, my read-radar goes way up. It hasn’t happened often, but it’s starting to more (yay!). So, when I noticed one reading Ungifted, and another reading Restart, followed by Slacker and a request for Korman's newest release, I figured it was time to see what this author was all about. 

A quick amazon search revealed that Gordon Korman is a prolific author. He has written over 85 middle grade and teen novels! And, once I started reading I discovered that I enjoyed his books almost as much as my boys. Most of his books are told from multiple character’s points of view (which my boys really like). And, they are funny, the plots are entertaining, and each book wraps up with the perfect dose of heart. 

Every one I’ve read so far, I would be quick to recommend. 

Interested? Here is a list to get you started. 

12.75 year-old Boy Seeking Books of Sport and Adventure

Jonah is an almost teenager who loves the Cubs, playing with his dog and playing video and board games. The thing he likes most about reading is that you can go at your own pace and do it whenever you have the time. However, he says that when a book is slow reading can be boring, especially when you are a slower reader. When he is looking for a book to read, he looks for sports books, graphic novels and books filled with adventure. He will also pick up a book if his friends are reading it and it looks good. 

I am excited to help Jonah with a few personalized picks. To help me help him, I asked Jonah to share three of his favorite books and one he was not so crazy about. Here are his favorites: