Worth Reading

Suzanne’s Favorite Books of 2015

Fun list of best books of 2015 created by home|school|life magazine's awesome book columnist. #homeschool

I love this time of year! New beginnings and new resolutions­­—plus all the Best-­Of booklists come out, so I can restock my to­-read list. In the spirit of celebrating last year and looking forward to some seriously good reading in 2016, I thought I’d share some of my favorites of 2015.

Favorite Young Adult

Pure
By Julianna Baggott
The Raven Boys
By Maggie Stiefvater

Favorite First Book of a Post­-Apocalyptic Trilogy Where I Didn’t Love Books Two and Three but Book One is So Good That I Can’t Help Recommending It and You Should Probably Read the Others And Make Up Your Own Mind :: Pure by Julianna Baggott

Favorite First Book of a Contemporary Fantasy Series With Clairvoyants and Ley Lines and Cute Boys Which I Stopped Reading After the First Book Because the Fourth and Final Book is Coming Out in March 2016 and I Want to Read Them All in One Glorious Binge :: The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater

Favorite Fantasy Heist Novel Which I Didn’t Even Know Was a Thing But Which As a Big Ocean’s Eleven Fan I Was Thrilled to Discover and Even More Thrilled to Learn That It’s the First of an On­-Going Series (NOTE: Maybe Don’t Get Too Attached to All of the Characters in the Heist Crew) :: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

 

Favorite Reading Inspired by My Obsession with the Broadway Musical Hamilton

(Because we’re all obsessed with Hamilton, right? Even those of us who live nowhere near New York and couldn’t afford tickets even if we did and so are forced to make do with listening to the cast album over and over again and singing along while our children mock our hip-­hop skills? If you are not yet obsessed with Hamilton , you have my permission to stop reading briefly to immediately check out the album. As a bonus, it totally counts as a homeschool history lesson.)

Alexander Hamilton
By Ron Chernow
Fever 1793
By Laurie Halse Anderson

Favorite Biography That Inspired it All and At 800-­Some Pages is Maybe Not a Quick Read but Still a Great Book About Our Ten­-Dollar Founding Father Who Just Like His Country Was Young, Scrappy, and Hungry ::Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Favorite Upper­-Elementary/YA Historical Fiction That I Had Been Meaning to Read For Years And Finally Got Around to Because It’s About the 1793 Yellow Fever Epidemic in Philadelphia That Also Sickened Alexander Hamilton :: Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Favorite New Sarah Vowell Book About America’s Favorite Fighting Frenchman and Alexander Hamilton’s Best Bud the Marquis de Lafayette Which Has, Disappointingly, Not All That Much Hamilton But Which is Wildly Entertaining Nonetheless As Are All of Sarah Vowell’s Books of History :: Lafayette in The Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell

 

Favorite Readalouds

Favorite Series That I’m On My Fourth and Probably Last Time Through Reading Aloud Until I Have Grandchildren Many MANY Years From Now :: The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Favorite Series That Just Keeps Getting Better and Is Giving Narnia a Run For Its Money As My Favorite Kids’ Fantasy Series of ALL TIME Where We’re Currently Reading Book Four (The Boy Who Lost Fairyland) While Anticipating the Release of the Fifth and Final (Sniff) Book (The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home) in March 2016 ::the Fairyland series by Catherynne M. Valente

Favorite Series by My Favorite Kids/YA Fantasy Author Diana Wynne Jones Where We’re Currently Reading The Magicians of Caprona Which is Turning Out to Be One of My Daughter’s Favorites Because It Has Magical Italian Cats :: the Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones

 

And finally:

Favorite Memoir That Examines the Author’s Life in Terms of Her Favorite Literary Heroines (Including Elizabeth Bennett, Anne Shirley, and Jane Eyre) Which Also Has the Best Title of Any Book I’ve Read This Year :: How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I’ve Learned From Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis


Bespoke Book List: Spooky Halloween Readalouds

Great list of spooky books for Halloween readalouds, from home/school/life magazine. #homeschool

Halloween is coming, and we need a good spooky book to read. We loved The Graveyard Book and The Witches. What should we read this year?

I loved scary stories, the kind that are best read under the covers with a flashlight, when I was growing up. I still love them. But my kids? Not so much. So it’s a pleasure to share some of my favorite spooky stories with other people who like a few goosebumps with their readalouds. Just keep in mind that these books all have genuinely scary moments in them and share them with your younger readers accordingly.

The Dollhouse Murders
By Betty Ren Wright
And Then There Were None
By Agatha Christie

I always recommend The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright because it was one of the first books I read as a kid that really scared the pants off me. For months, I would be afraid to peek inside my own dollhouse because I was convinced the little people inside would have moved around during the night. Twelve-year-old Amy discovers a haunted dollhouse in the attic of her family’s old home, and the dolls’ mysterious behavior spurs her to investigate a family tragedy.

One of my new favorite scary stories is Jonathan Stroud’s The Screaming Staircase, the first in his Lockwood & Co. series. Lucy Carlyle, who has the ability to hear the dead, joins forces with stolid George and mysterious Anthony at the Lockwood & Co. psychic investigative agency, where they—along with other, much more impressive agencies—battle the epidemic of ghosts that’s been plaguing London for half a century. There are some seriously scary bits as the kids face down malicious specters, the characters are delightful, and the action is pretty much non-stop.

For slow-building, atmospheric horror, you can’t beat Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, a mystery-horror tale in which ten people are summoned to a mysterious island house to face justice for past crimes. As guest after guest is murdered, following the pattern of an old nursery rhyme, the paranoia and hysteria among the remaining guests rise to a fever pitch.

 

The Time of the Ghost
By Diana Wynne Jones
Which Witch?
By Eva Ibbotson
Doom Stone, The
By Paul Zindel

The narrator of Diana Wynne Jones’s The Time of the Ghost doesn’t know who she is or how she become a formless, voiceless spirit. All she knows is that she is one of four sisters and that something horrible has happened. As she follows the four sisters around, trying to figure out which one she is, she witnesses their abusive, neglectful upbringing and a curious game the sisters invent, which may be the key to the darkness that lies ahead. But can the ghostly narrator do anything to prevent the terrible accident she knows is coming? And can she ever return to her own body? Grimmer and darker than some of Diana Wynne Jones’ other work, The Time of the Ghost is so compelling because of the relationship between the four sisters.

If you want something a little lighter but with plenty of spooky scenes, pick up Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson. The dark and terrible sorcerer Arriman must find an equally dark and terrible wife to give him an heir so that he can finally retire, so he holds a competition for witches. There’s much gruesome magic, a wife-murdering ghost, and an evil enchantress who collects the teeth of her victims, but there’s also the yearning-to-be-evil-because-she-loves-Arriman-so-much white witch Belladonna and plenty of humor to keep things from getting too bleak.

Sometimes you want a Halloween story that’s just action-packed, and The Doom Stone by Paul Zindel is a good bet for that. Jackson heads to Stonehenge to hang out with his cool anthropologist aunt, who’s helping the British army investigate a terrifying beast on a murder spree around the countryside. When the beast attacks his aunt and she has to be hospitalized, Jackson and his new friend Alma are the only ones who can solve the mystery and stop the beast.

 

The Witches of Worm
By Zilpha Keatley Snyder
The Prince of Mist
By Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Witches of Worm by Zilpha Keatley Snyder is one of those genuinely creepy children’s books that sticks with you. Jessica finds a miserable hairless kitten in an old cave, and despite her instant dislike of the cat, she brings it home to take care of. But the cat—whom Jessica names Worm—starts talking to Jessica, convincing her to do all kinds of terrible things. The cat must be a witch’s cat—but, then, where’s the witch?

A ghost story where the main characters are haunted by the Irish potato famine may seem a bit of stretch, but Black Harvest by Ann Pilling is genuinely spooky and one of those forgotten 1980s children’s books that deserves to be better known. Colin and Prill’s family, including their Eustace-Scrubb-ish cousin, expect a jolly Irish holiday, but there’s a strange stench of decay that never goes away—and Prill sees strange figures at night—and all the food starts spoiling—and people start getting sick.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James is a classic for a good reason: You can never be certain whether the narrating parson’s-daughter-turned-country-governess is truly the victim of vengeful spirits or whether she’s slowly and absolutely losing her mind. There’s such darkness in either interpretation, but it’s the unknown-ness of it all that’s truly terrifying.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón wrote one of my favorite grown-up books (The Shadow of the Wind, in case you're curious), so I was delighted to discover that he also wrote a deliciously spooky young adult novel called The Prince of Mist. Max’s family moves to the seaside to escape the war, but they quickly come to believe that their new home is haunted by the spirit of the previous owner’s son, who drowned in the sea. With the help of their new friend Roland, Max and Alicia begin to explore the mystery of that death, discovering a horrifying entity called the Prince of Mist who has returned to collect on an old debt.


9 new books to read this fall

Grab your library list—these are the new fall books we're most excited about.

Grab your library list -- this are the fall books we're most excited about
The Marvels
By Brian Selznick

 

A book by the author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret is an event, and Selznick’s latest—a story of an 18th century shipwreck, told mostly in pictures, twined with a seemingly unrelated tale of late 20th century London, told mostly in prose—is worth the hype.

 

 

 

He’s explored Greek and Egyptian mythology; now the Percy Jackson author turns his attention to Norse myths.

 

Leo: A Ghost Story
By Mac Barnett

 

 

Leo knows he’d make a wonderful friend, if only he could find someone who doesn’t immediately race off in terror when he bids a ghostly “hello.”

 

 

 

Beard’s sprawling, bawdy history of the Roman empire features the usual suspects (Caesar, Nero) as well as a host of ordinary folks that don't always show up in history, including bakers, jokers, and women.

 

 

 

 

Carry On: A Novel
By Rainbow Rowell

 

 

Following up on the success of Fangirl, Rowell returns to the world of Simon Snow, this time in a story focused on the boy wizard himself.

 

 

 

The Pigeon creator heads to Paris with his first chapter book about a homebody dog who meets a wandering cat and finds true friendship.

 

 

What is life like for the teenagers who aren’t the ones destined to battle evil forces? Ness’s protagonists have bigger problems than preventing the end of the world or falling in love with vampires—problems like getting a date for prom and passing biology.

 

 

A little boy makes two friends to help him cope with his fears about his new house in this delightfully illustrated picture book.

 

Lenny & Lucy
By Philip C. Stead

 

 

Riggs wraps up the quirky trilogy that started with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.


New Books: Crenshaw

Crenshaw
By Katherine Applegate
 

Reading level: Middle grades

It’s OK for little kids to have imaginary friends, but now that Jackson is about to start fifth grade, the reappearance of his old imaginary friend is just one more thing to worry about it.

And Jackson’s life is already full of enough worries. Since his music teacher mom’s job was eliminated and his construction worker dad was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, money has been tight. Like never-getting-enough-to-eat tight. Like selling-all-the-furniture tight. Like we-might-have-to-live-in-the-van-again tight. His little sister Robin is too young to remember what it was like during the month they lived in their minivan before, but Jackson remembers. He remembers how hard it was to sleep in the van with Robin kicking him all night. He remembers how police would sometimes ask them to move on when they parked somewhere for the night. He remembers how bad the van smelled after a few weeks. He remembers it all — and he doesn’t want to live that way again, especially since being homeless means leaving his best friend Marisol and switching schools, too.

So seeing his old smart-talking giant cat best friend in the shower is pretty much the last thing he needs. Jackson hasn’t seen Crenshaw in years, not since his family’s minivan life days, and he’s convinced that the cat’s reappearance means that he’s going crazy. But Crenshaw may be just what Jackson needs to get through his family’s financial crisis without losing his mind.

Homelessness isn’t a fluffy-happy topic to tackle, but Applegate does a good job of making it both believable (so many families are one crisis away from financial disaster) and not-too-scary (the scariest parts of the story take place in the past, so you know already that Jackson’s family gets through them). Kids can empathize with Jason’s worries and his frustration when his parents try to keep the extent of their situation from him and Robin. While Crenshaw doesn’t actually play a big role in the book — most of the time, Jackson’s just trying to get rid of him — he adds some much needed humor to the story. And while the book’s happy ending feels maybe a little contrived to grown-up readers, I think it’s the right note to end the story on for kids — and it’s a nice illustration of how the kindness of strangers can make a big impact.

Katherine Applegate’s first post-Newbery award book is a worthy follow-up to The One and Only Ivan and definitely worth adding to your middle grades reading list. I might veer toward reading this one as a readaloud, especially to younger kids, just because kids might have questions or concerns that you can address as you go.


New Books: Book Scavenger

Book Scavenger (The Book Scavenger series)
By Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
 

If you know me, you know that I am a sucker for books about readers. (See also: Possession, Inkheart, the Thursday Next chronicles.) So when I read the concept for this book — a girl who’s obsessed with a global book-hunting online game and who may have discovered the first clue in its founder's new, hotly anticipated literary game — I was sold. Book Scavenger, you had me at ‘hello.’”

Happily, the book is pretty charming even if you aren’t obsessed with books set in the world of reading. Twelve-year-old Emily has just moved to San Francisco, her family’s ninth move and part of her parents’ blog-chronicled plan to live in all 50 states. Emily, unlike her freewheeling older brother Matthew, yearns to stay in one place long enough to get bored and make real friends — but every time a place starts to feel like home, her parents start loading up the minivan for their next adventure. Fortunately Emily has Book Scavenger wherever she goes, an online game where participants hide books, leaving clues for other Scavengers to find them — the more complicated the clue, the better. In Emily’s mind, the one good thing about moving to San Francisco is that it’s the home of Book Scavenger creator Garrison Griswold, who’s getting ready to announce his next big game. Maybe being in Griswold’s city will give her an edge.

To her surprise, Emily discovers that San Francisco isn’t such a bad place to live. She even makes a friend, her upstairs neighbor James who turns out to be a puzzle-solving pro. After Griswold is attacked at a BART station and hospitalized, Emily finds a curious book near the site of the attack that she thinks might be the first clue in Griswold’s now-delayed new game. With James’s and Matthew’s help, Emily starts to follow to clues, leading her through San Francisco’s literary history. Along the way, she runs into more than one roadblock, including two shady characters determined to get their hands on the Griswold book and the challenges of learning how to be a real friend when she's used to going it alone.

Book Scavenger is a fun read with nicely developed characters and lots of literary inside jokes. (Em’s parents, for instance, named their minivan Sal after a Kerouac character.) It’s targeted at middle grades readers, who will probably appreciate it, but I think younger and older kids who enjoy books like The Mysterious Benedict Society or The Puzzling World of Winston Breen will enjoy it, too.


Bespoke Book Lists: Books Like the Mysterious Benedict Society

One of my favorite people just finished racing through The Mysterious Benedict Society and itssequels and wanted to know what she should read next. So B, this one’s for you!

The Mysterious Benedict Society
By Trenton Lee Stewart
 
Chasing Vermeer
By Blue Balliett
The Wright 3
By Blue Balliett
The Calder Game
By Blue Balliett

If you enjoyed reading about smart kids banding together to solve a mystery, check out Blue Baillett’s books, starting with Chasing Vermeer and continuing with The Wright 3 and The Calder Game. Petra, Calder, and Tommy are intelligent, resourceful detectives, who use math and problem-solving skills to solve art mysteries. Oh, that makes these books sound kind of stodgy, but I promise, they're not!

 

Want more brain-teasing puzzles? Pick up The Puzzling World of Winston Breen. (You can follow up with The Potato Chip Puzzles and The Puzzler’s Mansion.) Winston loves puzzles, and you can solve them right along with him as you work your way through this book and follow Winston on a hunt for a hidden inheritance.

 

Have you read The Westing Game yet? Because, if not, you should go and read it right now. Turtle is as smart as Renny, as resourceful as Kate, and almost as stubborn as Constance as she tries to solve the clues to win millionaire Samuel Westing’s inheritance. It’s one of my favorite books.

OK, The Farwalker’s Quest (first in the FarwalkerTrilogy) is a fantasy book, so it’s not set in the real world like The Mysterious Benedict Society is. But friends Ariel and Zeke have to be just as brave and clever as the Society when they discover a magical artifact that forces them into an adventure that’s far away from their ordinary lives.

In another series that puts a fantasy twist on adventure, 12-year-old Stephanie Edgley, in the Skulduggery Pleasant series, teams up with the eponymous undead detective-slash-sorcerer to protect the world from the evil and manipulative Nefarian Serpine. Stephanie is everything you could want in a heroine: smart, sassy, brave, and often hilarious. I think you might love this series.

 

The Gollywhopper Games
By Jody Feldman
The Seems: The Glitch in Sleep
By Michael Wexler, John Hulme

Forgive it for borrowing so obviously from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and I think you might enjoy The Gollywhopper Games, too. Gil Goodson is determined to win the Golly Toy & Game Company’s ultimate competition, and you’ll be right there with him, mastering trivia and solving puzzles, to get to the finish line. (The next two books in the series are fun, too.)

You might also enjoy Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, in which game-loving Kyle and his new friends must solve clues and secret puzzles to find their way out of the library belonging to the world’s most notorious game maker. This one might be a fun read-aloud.

If you don’t mind your books getting a bit silly, check out The Glitch in Sleep, the first book in the Seems series. The book’s premise — that our world is actually constructed somewhere else, from pre-packaged dreams for your sleep to a giant water tank that regulates precipitation — is kind of delightful, and Becker Drane, newly promoted Fixer, is about to face a Glitch in the Department of Sleep. You'll find lots of high-tech shenanigans and much silly fun to be had.


Book Review: The High-Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate

Age Range: Middle grades (but may be too much for some sensitive kids — read on)

My eight-year-old and I just finished reading The High-Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate by Scott Nash, and we had swashbuckling good time. It’s an exciting pirate story, but in this world, the pirates are all birds, and their ship, the Grosbeak, sails in the air. Blue Jay the Pirate has a reputation as a fearful pirate that you better not mess with, but his crew knows him better than that, and because of his good leadership skills, they remain loyal to him.

Blue Jay loves to collect treasure, and some of his most prized possessions are eggs. Unfortunately, sometimes they hatch, but they never had too much problem with that until now, when they find themselves raising a young gosling that will soon get bigger than their entire ship! In the end, however, the gosling, crew, an unlikely mole, and a whole community of thrushes work together to overthrow Blue Jay’s bully cousin and his followers, the crows.

The characters are likable, it’s well written, and beautiful illustrations by Scott Nash are placed throughout the story and make this book a pleasure to behold as well as read. However, there are some things that parents should consider before buying it for their children.

There is violence in the book. Although you are reading about birds, the actions, emotions and stories of these characters are very human, and I found it to be more realistic in this regard. I was taken aback when a young, lovable character is killed in the second chapter only because I knew the book is recommended for middle grades, and I was not expecting that. There is violence later in the book when the pirates and thrushes fight the crows as well. This book may not be the best pick for sensitive readers.

It also uses a high vocabulary, which I thought was a positive thing because it made my son want to use his dictionary.

Aside from these points to consider, we found the story to be fun and engaging, and it was perfect for my son who likes adventure and birds. (We were often referring to our bird app to look up photos of the real birds the characters were based on.) We also had fun learning and imagining what life is like for a mole, which in real life is quite unassuming and lives underground, but in this story becomes quite the hero.


New Books: Egg and Spoon

Egg and Spoon
By Gregory Maguire
 
“Elena had always felt like the center of her own world — who doesn’t? The world arranged itself around her like petals around the stem of a flower. This way the meadows, that way the woodland. Over here, the baryn’s estate, out there, the hills that hug the known world close and imply a world at beyond. She could never come up with the edge of a world, because it always kept going on beyond. She moved the center of the world as she walked. The world was balanced on her head.”

When a train pulls into the station of her impoverished Russian town, Elena is fascinated. Having grown up in the Russian countryside, she’s seen her father die, her brothers conscripted into the tsar’s army, her mother slowly dying from a wasting disease, and food grow more and more scarce. The train carries spoiled, wealthy Ekaterina, on her way to St. Petersburg — and with one unexpected event, the girls’ lives are catapulted in strange new directions.

Maguire draws on the rich history of Russian folklore and fairy tales for this story — newly out in paperback — and there are echoes of the great Russian novelists like Tolstoy and Pasternak in his slow-paced, lyrical prose. His Baba Yaga is delightfully reminiscent of some of Diana Wynne Jones’ sharp-tongued, kind-hearted mentors, and the scenes with her in her curious house that runs around on chicken legs are some of the book’s best. The Firebird — the enchanted glowing bird who brings either good luck or great sorrow to its owner — also plays a part. The journeys in this book are peopled with mystery: an incognito prince, a magic egg, a monk imprisoned in a tower.

I actually loved this book, which makes it hard to write about. But I cannot resist books that are about the experience of reading—where the way that the story is told is as important as the story itself. This little book just did it for me — I loved the language and the allusions and the fairy tale plot. It’s not a book that’s easy to recommend for a particular age, though, because what it needs is a particular kind of reader: a thoughtful, patient reader who doesn’t mind letting the words take their time to tell their story.

 

This review was originally published in Atlanta Homeschool.


Summer Reading: If You Loved The Phantom Tollbooth

Milo’s adventure in the Lands Beyond is full of witty wordplay and curious characters. Get a similar taste of brainy unpredictability from these delightfully eccentric books like The Phantom Tollbooth.

Your Next Picture Book:

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett􏰁 Johnson celebrates the power of pure imagination with this story of a boy and his favorite art supply.

 

Your Next Chapter Book

The Little Prince
By Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
 

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery explores some of the same big questions and ideas as The Phantom Tollbooth within a similarly whimsical premise.

 

Your Next Readaloud:

The Princess Bride by William Goldman has a ripping good story — it's better than the movie, and that's saying something — and a narrator whose literary asides will have you giggling with glee.

 

Your Next Teen Read:

 

Stardust by Neil Gaiman has a few adult plot points sprinkled throughout, but teens who loved Milo will be equally engaged by Tristran’s journey through the mysterious lands of Faerie.

 

Your Next Grown-Up Book

 

Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon is full of weird characters and curious situations. The twist: It’s all taking place in the real world, circa C.E. 1000.

 

We’re reprinting some of Amy’s summer reading series favorites from home/school/life magazine. This list appeared in our 2014 summer reading guide.


Summer Reading: A Solitary Blue

He felt, turning off the road onto the shelled driveway that ran up to his house, as if he’d just gotten a letter, out of the blue, from somebody wise enough to know the truth, from everybody, or at least everybody who mattered.

’Hello,’ the letter said. ‘Hello, Jeff Greene, I’ve been watching you and I like you and I want to know you better. This is just to say I’m glad you’re alive in the world.” The list of signatures, he thought, would include his own.

This quiet little book may be one of the best I've ever read. Certainly, it's one that's stuck with me. Jeff Greene is just seven when his mother Melody leaves him and his professor father to save the world. Jeff spends the next five years trying to be as unobtrusive as possible, afraid that his introverted, work-focused father will abandon him, too, if he makes a fuss about anything. When Melody invites him to spend a summer with her at her family's home in Charleston, Jeff falls in love with his capricious and charming mother all over again. But Melody isn't really interested in her son, and her second abandonment rips him up. Heartbroken and betrayed, Jeff falls apart completely — he can't keep track of the days, so he skips school and ends up failing eighth grade. But to Jeff's surprise, his father is there to help him pick up the pieces, and together, they build a life together in a new town and a new school. Jeff makes friends for the first time in his life (including Dicey Tillerman from Voigt's Homecoming) and slowly realizes that the possibility of happiness has always been inside him. By the time he meets Melody again, he understands her enough to love her without losing himself and to let her go again without regret.

What makes this book so resonant is its simple, vivid descriptions of Jeff’s emotional life. His isolation is so absolute that he lives most of his life inside his head, and Voigt brings both his depression and his hard-won happiness to life without melodrama or romance. The book's inhabitants are complicated people: do-gooder Melody wants to make a difference in the world but completely ignores her own son; the Professor and Jeff assume so many things about each other that it takes a crisis for them to realize how much they really like each other; Melody's grandmother is so caught up in her family's patriarchal traditions that she leaves her wealth to Jeff rather than Melody, whom she adores. Ultimately, it's the deliberate, nuanced development of Jeff as an individual that makes this book sing—and creates a boy who I'd argue is one of the most memorable characters in young adult fiction.

 

We’re reprinting some of Amy’s summer reading series favorites from Atlanta Homeschool magazine on the home/school/life blog.


Summer Reading: If You Loved The Little House Books

Did you love the Little House series? These books — for every reading level — share the simple, everyday details of life in the American past. If you’re looking for books like Little House on the Prairie, these titles are good place to start.  

 

Your Next Picture Book:

The Snowy Day
By Ezra Jack Keats
 

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats perfectly captures the magic of a little boy’s first snow day.

 

Your Next Chapter Book

The Birchbark House
By Louise Erdrich
 

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich does for the Native American experience what Little House did for the pioneers, chronicling the rhythms of life through a child’s eyes.

 

Your Next Readaloud:

Understood Betsy - Illustrated
By Dorothy Canfield
 

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher tells the story of a city-reared girl who learns to love the labors of country living.

 

Your Next Teen Read:

 

The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell is usually recommended for middle school, but the story of Karana’s self-sufficient life alone on a California island may be more deeply appreciated by older readers.

 

Your Next Grown-Up Book:

My Antonia
By Willa Cather
 

My Antonia by Willa Cather illuminates the story of the American West — and gives voice to some of the more adult difficulties of pioneer life — through the relationship of Jim and Bohemian immigrant Antonia.

 

We’re reprinting some of Amy’s summer reading series favorites from home/school/life magazine. This list appeared in our 2014 summer reading guide.


YA Bookalikes for Summer Reading

Not sure what to recommend next for your teen? These in-the-adult-section novels are great follow-ups to classic kid favorites and great YA books to read this summer.

Never Let Me Go
By Kazuo Ishiguro

IF YOU LOVED: The Giver

CHECK OUT: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

There’s a reason utopia means “nowhere.” The perfect world always comes at a cost. Lowry’s starkly beautiful dystopia reads like a little sister to Ishiguro’s lyrical science-fiction novel about an idyllic English boarding school where special children are groomed for a bleak future. The same questions resonate through both books: Who decides how the truth is revealed? What does it mean to have free will? What makes a person alive? And in both books, the answers are complicated.

 

IF YOU LOVED: The Harry Potter series

CHECK OUT: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Just like the indomitable Mr. Potter, Brooklyn teen Quentin Coldwater finds himself enrolled in a school for magicians. But he quickly discovers Brakebills Academy is quite unlike Hogwarts and that being a magician isn’t a cure-all for dissatisfaction with everyday life. Quentin doesn't share Harry's likable heroism, which makes him a more complicated protagonist.

 

Sideways Stories from Wayside School
By Louis Sachar, Julie Brinckloe

IF YOU LOVED: Sideways Stories from Wayside School

CHECK OUT: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Heller takes a darker view of human nonsense in his World War II classic, but there’s plenty of similarity between characters like the major who never sees anyone in his office when he’s in his office and the teacher who sends herself home on the kindergarten bus for (temporarily) turning evil.

 

The Hunger Games (Book 1)
By Suzanne Collins
The Handmaid's Tale
By Margaret Atwood

IF YOU LOVED: The Hunger Games

CHECK OUT: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Panem is an equal opportunity dystopia—young men and women are equally at risk in the country’s annual ba􏰁ttle-to-the-death games. But in the republic of Gilead, a totalitarian Christian theocracy, women like Offred must play an even more dangerous game. Atwood’s dark imagined future is ripe for rebellion, but rising up against an entrenched government in The Handmaid’s Tale is not as easy — or dramatic — as taking on Panem’s President Snow.

 

We’re reprinting some of Amy’s summer reading series favorites from home/school/life magazine. This list appeared in our 2014 summer reading guide.


Summer Reading: If You Like Harriet the Spy

Harriet the Spy was our first rebel heroine, a smart girl who spies for the sheer pleasure of it. These other renegade girls are worthy follow-ups to her literary legacy.  

Your Next Picture Book

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes features an equally likable little rebel.

 

Your Next Chapter Book

Anastasia Krupnik
By Lois Lowry
 

Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry also focuses on a budding writer who sometimes finds herself at odds with life.

 

Your Next Readaloud

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley is usually shelved in the adult section, but its 11-year-old chemist heroine has plenty of Harriet-style spunk.

 

Your Next Teen Read

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart, the tale of a plucky teen who infiltrates the all-male secret society at her snooty boarding school.

 

Your Next Grown-Up Book

 

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery focuses on precocious Paloma’s life in a Parisian apartment building, where — driven by loneliness and monotony — she vows to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday.

 

We’re reprinting some of Amy’s summer reading series favorites from home/school/life magazine. This list appeared in our 2014 summer reading guide.


Summer Reading: The Fairy Rebel

The Fairy Rebel
By Lynne Reid Banks
 
But the most utterly astonishing thing to Jan — apart from her being there at all — was her clothes. She was wearing a full, floaty top, which seemed to be made of tiny petals all stuck together. That was quite fairylike. But her legs were covered with what looked like a minute pair of blue jeans, and these were definitely not fairylike at all.

I’ve always been secretly glad that my daughter never went through a fairy phase. There’s nothing wrong with those pastel-hued fairy adventures, of course, but to me, they’re just mind-numbingly dull. (If there's an exception, do let me know!) And I think I can blame that on The Fairy Rebel, which spoiled me forever for other fairies with its punky, pink-haired, blue jean-wearing, rule-breaking heroine.

Tiki — the fairy rebel of the title — meets Jan, a human, when she accidentally bumps into her big toe during a daredevil race with her best friend. The two quickly become friends — even though the fairy queen has strict rules about fairies consorting with humans. In fact, Tiki is so fond of Jan that she wants to grant Jan’s wish for a baby — even though the fairy queen has even stricter rules about fairies granting wishes to humans. Soon Jan has a perfectly lovely baby with a fairy name (Bindi) and a tiny cluster of magical blue strands hidden beneath her soft brown hair. Tiki sends her little fairy goddaughter spectacular presents every year — until Bindi turns eight and the fairy queen decides the time is ripe for revenge.

Really, the story is simple enough, but the book is delightful, in large part because of brilliantly realized characters like Tiki and her best friend Wiljic (who is tired of sipping nectar and yearns for a bite of hard-boiled egg). The fairy queen, with her ability to command bees and wasps, is truly terrifying. Lately, I’ve read a few feminist critiques of the story, which fairly point out that the book focuses too frequently on the appearance of female characters and takes a paternalistic view of marriage—I don’t remember being bothered by these things during my own childhood readings, but they’d certainly be good conversation starters. But I am always up for nit-picky conversations about literature, so I may be a bit biased.

Certainly, I’m a biased toward this book, which I think should have a spot on every family’s must-read list.

 

We’re reprinting some of Amy’s summer reading series favorites from Atlanta Homeschool magazine on the home/school/life blog.