Middle grades screwball comedy, YA Victorian steampunk mysteries, and a little historical fiction were highlights of this week’s reading list.
What intersectional Confederate history can look like, the philosophical punch of Black Panther, science books for kids, and more stuff we like.
Why our best friends are so much more than friends, what would W.E.B. DuBois think about the Black Panther, and more stuff we liked.
Harry Potter in Scots, more reasons to love Adam Rippon, enjoying art when you can't like the artist, obsessing a little too much over the correct reading order of Madeleine L'Engle's books, and more stuff we like.
Our current homeschool obsession, understanding the whole "dimensions" thing, the joys of loving RuPaul, a really lovely tribute to the Challenger's lost teacher in space, and more stuff we like.
In almost every issue of home/school/life, we put together a book-movie list to recommend reading to go along with upcoming movies. It's always one of my favorite things to research. Though this list is from spring 2014 (when all these flicks were coming to the big screen), I think it's just as fun now that you can watch them in your living room instead.
Before you see: Divergent, starring Shailene Woodley as a girl whose multiple talents cause big problems in a society where people are sorted according to their strongest characteristic
Read: Divergent by Veronica Roth, the dystopian young adult novel the movie is based on
Why: How else will you be able to nitpick the details changed in the text-to-screen adaptation?
Before you see: The Double, in which Jesse Eisenberg’s shy hero finds his life slowly being overtaken by his brasher doppelganger
Read: The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the 1846 novella that inspired the film
Why: There’s plenty of critical controversy about what the Dostoevsky novel is really about, so it will be interesting to see what direction the film takes—and if you agree.
Before you see: Noah, Darren Aronofsky’s apocalyptic-style retelling of the Genesis flood story
Read: Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle, a quiet little fantasy that transplants two modern-day Murrys to Noah’s time
Why: Aronofsky is all over the story’s epic details, while L’Engle’s novel touches on deep emotions and philosophical questions.
Before you see: X-Men: Days of Future Past, a time-hopping entry into the X-Men universe with an Oscar-worthy cast
Read: Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction by Paul J. Nahin, a terrifically comprehensive examination of time travel in science fiction
Why: Nahin digs deep into the science behind science fiction, so you can intelligently quibble about disrupted timelines.
Before you see: Maleficent, in which Angelina Jolie attempts to create a sympathetic backstory for the baby-cursing villainess of Sleeping Beauty
Read: From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers by Marina Warner, a smart exploration of women’s roles in fairy tales and their history
Why: Jolie’s villain’s sympathetic origins can reveal a lot about society’s values and needs—if you know how to look.
Before you see: How to Train Your Dragon 2, which flashes forward five years into Hiccup and Toothless’s future
Read: How to Train Your Dragon: How to Seize a Dragon’s Jewel by Cressida Cowell, the latest installment in the popular series
Why: Like the Harry Potter series, Cowell’s dragon books have grown increasingly dark and complex as her hero grows up. Will the movies follow suit?
Before you see: The Fault in Our Stars, starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort as teenagers with cancer who fall in love
Read: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, the heart-warming (and tear-jerking) novel the film is based on
Why: There’s every chance the movie will be excellent, but you are missing out if you don’t read the book, which is so beautifully sad that it can make you cry on the subway. (Ask me how I know.)
This list was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of HSL.
Can you recommend a good book series for reading aloud? We have read Harry Potter, the Narnia books, and Percy Jackson, all of which we really enjoyed.
I feel like everyone should read Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain (start with The Book of Three), about the adventures of Assistant Pig-Keeper Taran and his friends — the princess/enchantress-in-training Eilonwy, king-turned-not-so-great-bard Fflewddur Fflam, and the curious and perpetually hungry Gurgi — as they fight to save Prydain from evil influences of Annuvin in an imaginary world drawn heavily from Welsh mythology. As in the Harry Potter books, Taran grows up over the course of his adventures so by the time the events in The High King take place, Taran is an adult facing adult decisions. This was one of my favorite series as a kid.
Everybody talks about The Hunger Games, but fewer people seem to know Suzanne Collins’ earlier series the Underland Chronicles, which may actually be a more interesting read. In the series’ first book, Gregor the Overlander, 11-year-old Gregor discovers a world beneath the surface of New York City, populated by giant cockroaches, tame bats, evil rats, and humans who have never seen the sun. Gregor, whose coming may have been foretold in an Underland prophecy, embarks on a series of quests, starting with a journey that might lead him to his long-missing father.
But what’s up with all the heroes? Add a couple of awesome heroines to your series readalouds with the Sisters Grimm, starting with The Fairy Tale Detectives. Sabrina and Daphne Grimm find out that Grimm’s fairy tales is not so much a collection of stories as it is a record of magical mischief cases solved by their famous ancestor. It’s fun to recognize characters from fairy tales living in the real world of Ferryport, and the sisters — especially Sabrina — are complicated, developing people, not just heroine stereotypes.
Another feminist series is Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet. Many people stop after A Wrinkle in Time, but continue on with A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time, and you’ll be well rewarded for your efforts. L’Engle is great reading for bright, thoughtful kids, who will appreciate the science, philosophy, and mathematics concepts that run through her books.
Another destination worth visiting is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, where you can follow the adventures of young witch-in-training Tiffany Aching. Start with the hilarious The Wee Free Men, in which Tiffany discovers her powers and attracts the loyalty of the Nac Mac Feegle, an army of rowdy blue pixies.
If you’re missing the thrill of a magical world, pick up Charmed Life. It’s not the first book chronologically in Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci series, but it makes an ideal introduction to a parallel world in which magic is supervised by the powerful enchanter Chrestomanci. In this book, Cat and his sister Gwendolen find themselves studying magic at the Chrestomanci’s own castle.
One of my favorite recent new book series, Lockwood & Co. takes place in an alternate London haunted by ghosts and spectres that can only be seen — and defeated — by children with special abilities. Mysterious Anthony Lockwood hires plucky Lucy and cynical George to join his independent ghost detection agency, where the trio are pitted not only against vengeful spirits but also against the big supernatural agencies run by adults. The Screaming Staircase is the first in the series.
In Fablehaven, Kendra and Seth discover that their grandparents’ isolated country house is actually a preserve for mythical and legendary creatures — one of several secret preserves located around the world. The preserve is governed by strict rules for humans and magical beings, and breaking one of those rules can have serious consequences. Not surprisingly, there are dark forces at work hoping the harness the magical potential in places like Fablehaven.
It’s a little different from a traditional readaloud, but the graphic novel series Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi is a great adventure, following Emily and her brother Navin as they venture into an alternate version of earth to rescue their mom. The series kicks off with The Stonekeeper.
Are you looking for some new book ideas? We take Bespoke Reading List requests! Email us with what you’re looking for — “I have a 9-year-old obsessed with dinosaurs” or “what should a teenager who likes military history read?” — and we’ll play literary matchmaker.
In the summer issue of home/school/life, we’re helping you navigate the transition from elementary to middle school in your homeschool. An important piece of the puzzle: Your middle grades reading list. These titles tap into tweens’ developing social and emotional lives
It’s heartbreaking to read, but that’s kind of the point of this book about life for one Jewish girl in hiding during the Holocaust.
Some of the situations in this book may be a little mature for younger middle schoolers, but its themes of identity and intelligence will captivate tween readers.
What cost does utopia have? How important is freedom? Tweens are ready to tackle those ambiguous questions right along with young Jonah in this deceptively simple novel.
For many tweens, Harper Lee’s American classic is the first novel that really makes them sit up and pay attention to what literature can do. Scout, Boo Radley, and Atticus Finch are characters who stay with you.
People have called Holden Caulfield, the book’s not-a-hero-protagonist annoying, boring, spoiled, and hard to identify with. That unlikability is part of what makes this a classic.
Tweens trying to sort out where they belong will identify with reluctant hoodlum Ponyboy in this story about two rival gangs in the 1960s Midwest.
Coincidence or fate, revenge or redemption, justice or generosity — Sachar tackles these big topics with good-spirited humor and a rollicking good story.
Golding’s novel might poke fun at some of the traditional fairy-tale elements in epic adventures, but the story of Buttercup and her Westley is an unabashed literary delight. (Golding was inserting wry narrator notes long before the trend took off in children’s literature.)
Lots of children’s books talk about the history of Native Americans, but Alexie’s novel is one of the few that digs into what it’s like to grow up on a modern-day Indian reservation. There’s tough stuff in this book, but that’s part of what makes it so worthwhile.
This book, about two lonely kids who find friendship while creating an imaginary world, will break your heart in the best possible way.
Like a more confusing, much darker version of Alice in Wonderland, Coraline is a fascinating look at the costs of getting what we want.
You don’t have to be a science-fiction fan to get completely caught up in this story of Meg’s search for her father, and even non-science-minded kids will appreciate the intelligent writing.