Bespoke Book Lists

Epidemic!: A Science of Infection Reading List

Epidemic!: A Science of Infection Reading List

It's flu season, and we've got a reading list of historical fiction and nonfiction to help you explore epidemics past.

Bespoke Book List: Funny Fantasy

My kids loved Half Magic and devoured the rest of Edward Eager’s books. What other fantasy stories with magic and humor do you recommend? 

 
 

Five Children and It: Eager himself pays lavish tribute to Nesbit’s old-fashioned magic tales in his own books, so if you haven’t read this classic story of five children and a wish-granting Psammead, put it at the top of your list. 

Upside-Down Magic: When shapeshifter Nory flunks out of magic school, she ends up in a class full of kids whose magic is as wonderfully wonky as her own. (Bonus points to this book for introducing the bitten—beaver + kitten—and dritten—dragon + kitten.) 

No Flying in the House: Annabel’s family has always been just her and her tiny white dog Gloria, who talks and wears a gold collar. But when a not-so-nice cat tells Annabel that she’s really half-fairy, Annabel knows big changes lie ahead. 

 

 
 

Bed-knob and Broomstick: If you’ve read The Borrowers, you know how delightfully Mary Norton combines everyday English life with fantastic events, and this story (really two stories combined into one book), about the Wilson children and their witch-in-training country neighbor Miss Price, is just as charming. 

Igraine the Brave: When her parents accidentally turn themselves into pigs during a castle invasion, Igraine finally has the opportunity to save the day, rescue her parents, and prove that she’s as great a knight as her famous grandfather. 

The 13 Clocks: A little darker than Half Magic et al, James Thurber’s quirkily whimsical fairy tale is a favorite of Coraline author Neal Gaiman’s. An evil duke systematically dispatches the princes who come seeking his niece’s hand in marriage, but the Prince of Zorna has a plan to win the day. 

 

This book list was originally published in the fall 2016 issue of HSL. Are you looking for a book recommendation? You can always email us.


9 Books for Latino Book Month

Fill your May reading list with books that celebrate Latino culture. Lean ustedes, y disfruten!

Everyone knows about Brown vs. the Board of Education, but not many people know that almost ten years before the Supreme Court struck down the separate but equal standard for school, a Mexican-Puerto Rican-American fought against the same kind of segregation in California. Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation (EG) tells her story.

The allegory is obvious but still effective in Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote (EG)—a tale about a young bunny who strikes out north in search of his father, who left to work in the carrot and lettuce fields there and hasn’t returned home.

 

The Dreamer
By Pam Munoz Ryan, Pam Muñoz Ryan

In the graphic novel Luz Sees the Light (EG), Luz’s community is struggling with high gas prices and power outages, and Luz thinks turning a deserted lot into a community garden will make her barrio a better place.

The Dreamer (MG) is fictional biography of Pablo Neruda, recounting the childhood of a shy boy who finds beauty and mystery all around him with a dazzling combination of poetry, prose, and artwork.

 

Return to Sender
By Julia Alvarez
The Tequila Worm
By Viola Canales

Julia Alvarez tackles tough questions about ethics, morality, and migrant workers in Return to Sender (MG), a simple, sensitive story about two families whose lives intersect on a Vermont dairy farm.

In The Tequila Worm (YA), Sophia experiences culture shock when she wins a scholarship to a posh boarding school, where she must find ways to stay connected to her Mexican-American family and its traditions while finding her place in a different world.

 

Under the Mesquite
By Guadalupe Garcia Mccall
The Book of Unknown Americans
By Cristina Henríquez

While Lupita’s Mami battles cancer at a faraway hospital, teenage Lupita takes care of her seven younger brothers and sisters in Under the Mesquite (YA), a novel in verse about growing up in a Mexican-American family.

A motley collection of immigrants, brought together in a Delaware apartment complex, tell their stories in chapters that alternate with a love story between a Panamanian boy and a Mexican girl in The Book of Unknown Americans (YA).

 

The House on Mango Street
By Sandra Cisneros
 

The House on Mango Street (YA) isn’t so much a novel as a collection of vivid, lyrical, almost impressionist vignettes, telling the story of a Mexican-American girl growing up in Chicago. 

 

We use the abbreviations EG (elementary), MG (middle school), and YA (high school) to give you a general idea of reading level, but obviously you’re the best judge of what your child is ready to read.


Bespoke Book List: The Essential Charles Dickens Reading List

Save for later: Good Dickens reading list for high school, with movie suggestions and other info, too. #homeschool

Two hundred years old and going strong, Charles Dickens still deserves his spot on your library list. 

It might seem like a stretch to compare the venerable novelist to Kim Kardashian, but the most photographed man of his day could barely walk outside without attracting a crowd. (Once, celebrity-crazed crowds literally ripped Dickens’ coat apart as he walked down the street.) Dickens was the first real pop-culture celebrity, though it was his hilarious sketches and unflinching social criticism that earned him the obsessive adoration of his Victorian peers. The late 20th century, however, was less kind: Though his books have never gone out of print, Dickens missed out on a Jane Austen-style renaissance and ended up relegated to sophomore English classes. In recent years, however, events have conspired to bring the Victorian novelist back to center stage. 

It started in 2012, when more than 3,000 volunteer editors signed on to help bring digitized editions of Dickens’ weekly magazines to the web. Hailing Dickens as “the first blogger,” academics lauded his incisive, anonymous indictments of Victorian society and politics. Director Mike Newell raised eyebrows in 2012 when he announced that his film version of Great Expectations (starring Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes) would have neither of Dickens’ original endings, eschewing the original gritty conclusion and the somewhat unrealistically romantic rewrite in favor of a new ending that the screenwriter says will fall somewhere in between the two extremes. Even 2012’s big hacker attack on the networking site LinkedIn has a Dickens connection: A computer security expert in Utah tests password strength using selections from A Tale of Two Cities. There’s never been a better time to get your Dickens on—even if you can’t hop across the pond to Dickens World in Chatham, where the big attraction is the Great Expectations Boat Ride.

 

The Essential Dickens: Books

The Pickwick Papers (1836)
Surely I’m not the only reader who discovered Dickens by way of Little Women. But Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy were not the only 19th century folks to get caught up in the laugh-out-loud antics of Samuel Pickwick and his friends. The book—a collection of humorous sketches in a narrative framework—sparked a craze in the 1830s and 40s, complete with spin-offs, character roleplay, and all the other fun you’d associate with a pop culture sensation. Dickens biographer Robert Douglas-Fairhurst compares Pickwick and his “assistant” Sam Weller to famous comedy duos like Laurel and Hardy or Abbot and Costello. 

Oliver Twist (1839)
Memorable characters like Fagin and the Artful Dodger make Dickens’ no-holds-barred satire on early Victorian attitudes toward poverty a classic. Darker and less hilarious than The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist is still eminently readable and a good transition between shorter works, like A Christmas Carol, and Dickens’ bigger—in scale, scope, and page number—novels.

Great Expectations (1861)
he story of young Pip’s coming of age as a gentleman in Victorian London is vividly drawn, and Pip is a genuinely likable hero, sympathetic even in his obsession with the uninterested Estella. Dickens tackles the corrupt emotional landscape of a world where wealth is the most important asset by illuminating the redeeming power of love. If people read this instead of A Tale of Two Cities in high school, they’d probably have much fonder opinions of Dickens.

Bleak House (1853)
A vast cast of characters and complex plot line make Bleak House a better choice for older readers, but it’s worth waiting to dive into this richly detailed, fictional account of one of England’s most famous court cases. What happens when two decidedly different Last Wills and Testaments come to light and a nice little estate is at stake? Many depressing years of argument in the British Court of Chancery and a twist ending that’s genuinely shocking.

Dickens, by Peter Ackroyd (1992)
Equal parts novelist, critic, and historian, Ackroyd is just the man to tackle the complex and fascinating life of the creator of Miss Havisham and Augustus Snodgras. It takes Ackroyd more than a thousand pages, imagined dialogues (in which Dickens dismisses biographers as “novelists without imagination”), and a plethora of facts to capture Dickens’ life story, but it works. You’ll close this odd and enormous tome feeling like Dickens is an old friend.

 

The Essential Dickens: Film

David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Dame Maggie Smith, Bob Hoskins, Sir Ian McKellen, Tom Wilkinson
Oliver!
Starring Ron Moody, Shani Wallis, Oliver Reed, Harry Secombe, Mark Lester
Bleak House
Starring Gillian Anderson, Alun Armstrong, Charlie Brooks

David Copperfield (1999) 
Harry Potter fans will be thrilled to recognize Professor McGonagall, Dolores Umbridge, and a very young Daniel Radcliffe in this faithful but fast two-part BBC production.

Oliver! (1968)
Dickens purists may complain that this musical take on Oliver Twist simplifies the book’s complex plot more than they’d like, but the film captures the novel’s spirit and pays appropriate homage to its most unforgettable characters.

Bleak House (2005)
This exquisite, fifteen-part BBC serial is the kind of literary adaptation readers dream of: lavishly rendered, textually faithful, and brilliantly acted. Gillian Anderson gives a particularly nuanced performance as the tortured Lady Dedlock.


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.


Bespoke Book Lists: Books About the Gold Rush

Great list of fiction and non-fiction books about the California Gold Rush. #homeschool

I’m planning a unit on the California Gold Rush for my 3rd and 5th grader. Do you have any book suggestions for readalouds? 

I’m always going to recommend By the Great Horn Spoon, by Sid Fleischman, which is one of the best Gold Rush readalouds (and one of the best elementary school readalouds, period, in my opinion). Bold adventures, leering villains, and a determined twelve-year-old hero make this one of those books that will have your kids begging for “just one more chapter.”

Karen Cushman’s The Ballad of Lucy Whipple, tells the story of a girl (who changes her name from California Morning to plain Lucy) who goes from a comfortable life in Massachusetts to the rough-and-tumble world of a California gold mining town. Cushman’s a pro at weaving well-researched period details into her stories, and this book really brings the experience of a California mining camp to life.

Seeds of Hope: The Gold Rush Diary of Susanna Fairchild, California Territory 1849 by Kristiana Gregory is part of the Dear America series and makes a good counterpoint to the merrier Gold Rush narratives. Life in camp was hard, especially for women, and this novel, chronicling the tale of a girl whose family travels from New York to strike it rich, does a nice job illuminating those dangers without getting too scary.

If your kids like funny books, check out How to Get Rich in the California Gold Rush by Tod Olson, a tongue-in-cheek look at what prospecting was really like. Though the book’s charming hero Thomas Hartley is completely fictional, the book paints a historically accurate picture of the Gold Rush experience.

In case you want to add a little nonfiction to your list, The California Gold Rush by May McNeer weaves rich details and anecdotes kids will appreciate with plenty of facts in an easy-reading account of the great Gold Rush.

And you didn’t ask, but I have to recommend California Gold Rush Cooking, by Lisa Golden Schroeder, a cookbook that lets you try your hand at making eight simple recipes miners would have eaten during the Gold Rush, like hand pies and chop suey. For extra credit, cook them over an open fire.

 

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.


Bespoke Book Lists: What to Read After Harry Potter

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.

Fablehaven
By Brandon Mull

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.