Ahoy Mateys! It's Talk Like a Pirate Day! In honor of this special occasion, here are some great pirate reads for buccaneers everywhere. Arrrrrr!
By Mary Quattlebaum, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger .Two pirate captains set sail, each one determined to prove that s/he is the best in the world. They meet on the high seas, and the competition begins. Each demands, and refuses, to give way to the other using the most colorful pirate lingo. Then the insults begin to fly: "Grog swiller." "Landlubber." "Bilge rat." "Sea skunk." But when Mean Mo calls Bad Bart "Gentleman," and he counters: "Lady," there is no backing down from those fightin' words.
By James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, illustrated by Juliana Neufeld .The Kidd siblings have grown up diving down to shipwrecks and traveling the world, helping their famous parents recover everything from swords to gold doubloons from the bottom of the ocean. But after their parents disappear on the job, the kids are suddenly thrust into the biggest treasure hunt of their lives. They'll have to work together to defeat dangerous pirates and dodge the hot pursuit of an evil treasure hunting rival, all while following cryptic clues to unravel the mystery of what really happened to their parents–and find out if they're still alive.
By Melinda Long, illustrated by David Shannon. Building a sand castle at the beach one day, young Jeremy Jacobs encounters Brain Beard and his motley pirate crew. He joins them aboard ship as their official digger and off they sail to find a safe place to bury their treasure chest of gold and jewels. Jeremy learns pirate language ("Aargh!") and pirate manners (they don't have any), and tries to teach the scurvy dogs to play soccer. He doesn't have to brush his teeth. ("Maybe that's why their teeth are green," he observes cogently.)
By Patrick OBrien and Kevin OMalley, illustrated by Patrick OBrien
The dinosaur citizens of Jurassica are in a panic when a mob of misshapen mutants and reptilian cyborgs from the pirate ship Blackrot rampages through the Imperial Palace, making off with the famous Jewels of Jurassica. The President calls in Captain Raptor to pursue the evildoers. Raptor and his fearless crew give chase through the galaxy until their starship Megatooth is blasted by the pirates.
As summer comes to an end, it's time for kiddos everywhere to head back to school. ReadKiddoRead has put together a list of great books to get kids in the mood to do just that. There's a book for every reader on this list, whether your kiddos are starting kindergarten or high school (and a few that you might enjoy too).
Great Illustrated Books, ages 2 – 6
Great Transitional Books, ages 6 – 9
Great Pageturners, ages 9 -12
Great Advanced Books, ages 12 and Up
GREAT ILLUSTRATED BOOKS
Miss Nelson is Missing!
By Harry G. Allard Jr.
Miss Nelson cannot control her classroom. "The kids in Room 207 were misbehaving again," the book starts off. "They were the worst behaved class in the whole school." "Something must be done," says a resigned, rosy-cheeked Miss Nelson. The next day the teacher is nowhere to be found, and the children rejoice and throw more paper airplanes-a little too soon. An unpleasant substitute in an ugly black dress, Miss Viola Swamp, sweeps in in her stead.
By Rosemary Wells
Take a glorious month-by-month tour through the kindergarten year with master teacher Miss Cribbage, a guinea pig, as seen through the eyes of Emily the rabbit, one of eight animal students in the class. As the months go by, they count, collect weeds and seeds, make maps, sing, and widen their horizons across the activity-filled curriculum.
By Joanne Ryder
At Wolong Nature Reserve in China, giant pandas are raised and studied by researchers who are helping to ensure the survival of these endangered creatures. Mother pandas often have twins but can only care for one cub at a time, so the workers at the panda nursery care for the twin and swap cubs so both get mom time.
School!: Adventures at the Harvey N. Trouble Elementary School
By Kate McMullan; Illustrated by George Booth
Laugh-out-loud funny, from the endpapers to the final page, this illustrated novel tells about a week of what would be very ordinary happenings – except that this particular hotsy-totsy, tippy-toppy, super-duper,hunky-dory, yowie-ka-zowie week is at the Harvey N. Trouble Elementary School – where everyone and everything is just a little different and a lot hilarious.
By Laurie Miller Hornik, Illustrated by Debbie Tilley
At the hands-on new Zoo School, where the motto is, "Let the animals be your textbooks," the student desks are actually fish-filled aquariums. The students include Ursula, who wants everything to be just like it was at her old school; Kitty, who knows a lot about animals and can't wait to learn more; Drake, who is terrified of animals, and is unnerved by the fish swimming in his desk; and Robin, who can't believe there's no nurse at this school, because she is used to spending half her day in the nurse's office.
The King of Show-and-Tell (Ready, Freddy! series)
By Abby Klein, Illustrated by John McKinley
It's Freddy Thresher's turn for show-and-tell on Monday, and he'd sure like to find something as cool as the alligator head classmate Robbie brought for show-and-tell today. When he rescues a baby bird that has fallen from its nest, he names it Winger. If he can keep Winger hidden from his mom all weekend and sneak it to school on Monday without his teacher seeing it, he knows he'll be the King of Show-and-Tell for sure!
What's the Matter in Mr. Whiskers' Room?
By Michael Elsohn Ross, Illustrated by Pail Meisel
For kids who find the study of science intimidating, wait till they meet the male counterpart to Ms. Frizzle (who kids already know and love from Joanna Cole's "The Magic School Bus" books)—Mr. Whiskers, a teacher with a beard, a blond crew cut, and a passion for "the big idea." His mission is to make science scintillating.
It's the First Day of School…Forever!
By R.L. Stine
Somehow, Artie Howard makes it through a terrible first day of middle school. Could it get worse? Yes! When Artie wakes the next morning for the second day of school, the events of the previous day begin repeating. In very short, action-filled chapters, Artie tells his own story, tapping into every kid's fears and worries about new schools and the beginning of new school years. Artie's keep-on-going attitude and his ability to find bits of humor in it all will have readers on his side.
Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life
By James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts, Illustrated by Laura Park
Middle School doesn't begin well for Rafe Khatchadorian. Between run-ins with the school bully, Miller "The Killer" and a book of rules that the school actually takes seriously, to say Rafe is disillusioned with the educational system would be understatement. And so it's totally understandable when his best friend, Leonardo, suggests that Rafe set out to break every rule in the book.
By R.J. Palacio
It would be hard to overstate how special this book is – it is much more than just an exquisitely written story. This is a rare book that might – open a closed heart; it could make the world a better place. August Pullman, now 10, was born with a deformed face. He lives in Manhattan, where's it's hard to hide, so even though he's been homeschooled, he's felt the stares and heard the whispers. Now his parents have decided (not without reservations) that it's time for Auggie to meet the wider world, enrolling him in a private school for fifth grade.
Sideways Stories from Wayside School
By Louis Sachar
There are strange things afoot on the thirtieth story of Wayside School. The classroom's first teacher, the wicked Mrs. Gorf, turned all her children into apples, but had to be replaced when they reversed her spell, turned her into an apple, and she accidentally was eaten by Louis, the schoolyard teacher. Whoops. The twenty-seven wacky kids are now in the hands of a bewildered nice, young teacher, Mrs. Jewls, and each chapter is devoted to their quirks, one classmate at a time.
The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman
By Ben H. Winters
Ms. Finkleman is not the most popular teacher at Mary Todd Lincoln Middle School; neither is she the least popular. In fact, the mousy music teacher sort of embodies the word "unremarkable." Meanwhile, in Social Studies, Mr. Melville announces "Special Projects," a class favorite. The assignment: solve a mystery in your own life. Bethesda Fielding has the best idea – to uncover who this Ms. Finkleman really is!
SPHDZ Book #1! (Spaceheadz series)
By Jon Scieszka, and Francesco Sedita, Illustrated by Shane Prigmore
It's Michael K.'s first day in a new school, P.S. 868, in a new city, Brooklyn, New York, and though he's only been there for twenty minutes, it's already seriously weird. His new teacher, Mrs. Halley, has put him in the slow group with two strange new kids. How strange? The new girl just ate half of her pencil, and the new boy has just told him that they are Spaceheadz from another planet.
By Raina Telgemeier
There's plenty of drama in Callie's life – onstage and off! Callie is the set designer for her middle school play. She wants it to go off with a bang – literally – and is building a cannon that really "fires" for the show. If only she could add some spark to her love life. Callie's first experiences with romance are fizzling – and confusing. But nothing keeps infectiously-enthusiastic Callie down for long, especially when she's got set design and her stage crew to keep her distracted.
The Wednesday Wars
By Gary D. Schmidt
"Of all the kids in the seventh grade at Camillo Junior High School, there was one kid that Mrs. Baker hated with heat whiter than the sun. Me." So starts the sometimes slapstick, sometimes serious account by Holling Hoodhood about the Wednesday afternoons he is forced to spend with his stern and demanding English teacher. Though they begin as adversaries, Mrs. Baker, whose husband has just been deployed to Vietnam, becomes his touchstone who helps him deal with his perfectionist and bullying father.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
By E. Lockhart
The summer after her freshman year of high school, Frankie blooms into a "curvaceous young woman with an offbeat look." Frankie's sister, Zada, graduated in June, and now Frankie will be on her own at Alabaster Preparatory Academy, away from her overprotective family who treat her like a child. In September, Frankie encounters popular senior and golden boy, Matthew Livingston, on whom she's had a secret crush since freshman year. Not only does Matthew notice her, he flirts with her and introduces her to his friends. This is a compelling, enjoyable, diabolical, and witty read.
Blue Lipstick: Concrete Poems
By John Grandits
Emotions erupt in Jessie's collection of 33 concrete poems, beginning with the title poem which is written around the perimeter of the front cover. They meander and cascade across each page in a swirl of assorted blue and black fonts. There's "A Chart of My Emotional Day," which she diagrams for a math assignment; "Volleyball Practice," with sentences that bounce back and forth on the page; and "My Absolutely Bad Cranky Day," a simply glorious alphabet and timeline combined.
Did you know that August 26th is National Dog Day? Here at ReadKiddoRead, we've compiled some of our favorite reads about our favorite four-legged friends. Visit ReadKiddoRead.com for more great recommended reads!
GREAT ILLUSTRATED BOOKS
May I Pet Your Dog?: The How-to Guide for Kids Meeting Dogs (and Dogs Meeting Kids)
By Stephanie Calmenson, Illustrated by Jan Ormerod
Some children are too afraid of dogs. Others are not afraid enough. How should we behave when we encounter a strange dog? Harry, a longhaired, chocolate-dappled dachshund, encounters a young boy and gives him a series of concrete and practical instructions on how to be friends with a dog.
By Daniel Kirk
Dog lovers will have a blast with this large, personable book of 22 meaty dog-narrated poems, all accompanied by soulful paintings of the notable pooches. Every aspect of dogdom is covered here; titles include: "In My Doghouse," "Pet Me," "Lapdog," "Chowhound," "Chasing My Tail," and my personal favorite, the final selection, the lullaby-like "Dog-Tired."
The Helpful Puppy
By Kim Zarins; Illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
Comfortably old-fashioned illustrations help to tell the simple story of the brown-and-white puppy who lives on a farm and wants, more than anything, to help out. After all, the other animals have jobs to do! This puppy will try anything, and in page after page he does.
GREAT TRANSITIONAL BOOKS
Just a Dog
By Michael Gerard Bauer
Even kids who don't love dogs will love this book. Even if they don't own a dog, they will want to own this book so that they can read it again and again, and loan it to their friends and persuade their teacher to read it aloud in class. When Corey was three years old, his family let him choose a puppy from a litter of mixed-breed dogs. Without hesitation, he picked the puppy that was mostly white. The name "Mister Mostly" eventually became "Mr. Mosely," because Corey was too little to be able to say the letter "t."
My Senator And Me: A Dog's Eye View Of Washington, D.C.
By Edward Kennedy
"If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." Senator Ted Kennedy did just that—an effusive black Portuguese Water Dog named Splash, who narrates this breezy and informative tour of the nation's capital and guide to daily life in the Capitol. Splash attends the Senator's staff meeting, takes a ride on the tram, and is at Kennedy's side for a press conference.
Owney: The Mail-Pouch Pooch
By Mona Kerby
In October of 1888, a stray brown and white terrier wandered out of the rain into the post office in Albany, New York, and sacked out on a pile of canvas mail pouches. He stayed, hopping aboard the mail wagon each day for a ride to the train depot. One day he hopped aboard the train and rode it all the way to New York City, and didn't return for seven months.
City of Dogs
By Livi Michael
On Sam's birthday, the one he thinks will be the worst ever, his Aunty Dot brings to the house a small white dog she has just hit with her car. The dog, which Sam names Jenny, has no obvious injuries, though in her mouth, she is holding a sprig of mistletoe carved like a dart. What Sam does not know is that Jenny has come from another one of the nine worlds, where she inadvertently altered the course of destiny when she saved her master, Baldur, the Golden Boy, from death.
Lewis and Clark and Me: A Dog's Tale
By Laurie Myers, Illustrated by Michael Dooling
It's been more than two centuries since Meriwether Lewis and William Clark undertook their famed expedition with the Corps of Discovery to chart the lands west of the Mississippi in 1803. They spent two and a half years, journeying 7,000 miles to the Pacific Ocean and back. Along with their 33-member team, Lewis brought along his huge black Newfoundland dog named Seaman.
Survivors: The Empty City
By Erin Hunter
In SURVIVORS, Erin Hunter, creator of the popular WARRIORS series, introduces us to a world of dogs rather than cats. Readers will find it as compelling, eye-opening and exciting as its feline counterpart. It certainly stands on its own, with appeal to both boys and girls looking for a great adventure. Fans of the WARRIORS will enjoy a look at another species and will be glad to see that the dog mythology is as complete as the cat mythology.
GREAT ADVANCED READS
The Dogs of Winter
By Bobbie Pyron
Readers will be riveted by five-year-old Ivan's tragic transformation from Mishka, his mother's little bear, into Malchik, dog boy, a member of a pack of feral dogs trying to survive on the streets of St. Petersburg. Although a stark lesson in human-failing, this story, based on an actual event, is unexpectedly uplifting.
In honor of the 55th anniversary of the creation of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), we've compiled a few of our favorite books for kiddos about outer space.
If You Decide To Go To The Moon
by Faith McNulty, Illustrated by Steven Kellogg
"If you decide to go to the moon in your own rocket ship, read this book before you start." So begins a resplendent you-are-there nonfiction picture book, narrated in second person, with sensational full-page paintings.
The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity
by Elizabeth Rusch
This stunning book, beautifully designed and chock-full of incredible images, outlines the conception, development, and implementation of the Mars Exploration Rover Mission.
A Black Hole is NOT a Hole
by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano
The book playfully explodes the misinformation that surrounds black holes, from the myth that they "feed" on galaxies to their very name – because they are not holes at all! With this premise in place, the author sheds light on one of the biggest mysteries of the universe.
Mission Control, This is Apollo: The Story of the First Voyages to the Moon
by Andrew Chaikin, Illustrated by Alan Bean
To commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, this substantial-sized volume is filled with conversational and quote-filled accounts of all 12 of the piloted Apollo missions.
Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon
by Catherine Thimmesh
In a large-format scrapbook of dramatic black and white and color photographs and white text set against a glossy black background, we read the gripping story firsthand from the (mostly) men who reveal the many challenges and problems they faced getting ready for the flight and in the mission itself.
You Are the First Kid on Mars
by Patrick O'Brien
This book will tell you what would happen, and what you would do, if you were the first kid on Mars. The author posits that someday, scientists, engineers, astronauts, and their families might set up a colony on Mars
Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity
by Dave Roman
In this graphic novel, Hakata Soy leaves his past as the leader of a superhero team to attend Astronaut Academy, a school on a space station orbiting Earth.
At ReadKiddoRead, we know that parents are looking for ways to keep their kids learning throughout the summer. The National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) offers great summer learning opportunities through Camp What-A-Wonder and Wonderopolis.org.
Camp What-A-Wonder is a virtual program that provides children and parents with inspiration and opportunities to read and learn together during the summer. Camp What-A-Wonder is a special segment of Wonderopolis.org and is available at no cost. Campers explore a different theme each week through online and offline lessons and activities, all created to show how wonder and learning can happen anywhere and at any time. This year's "Uncover the Wonder Around You" weekly themes include: Earth and Environment; Sky and Weather; Structures and Buildings; Technology and Innovation; Travel and Transportation; Plants and Animals.
Campers and their families have fun activities to do, exciting trips to take, and lots of Wonders of the Day to explore together. Visit Camp What-A-Wonder today.
Each year, The Patterson Family Foundation awards James Patterson Teacher Education Scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students that are studying education and are committed to teaching careers. Over the next few months, ReadKiddoRead will highlight Patterson Scholars at schools across the country. In the first post, we featured the scholars at Michigan State University. For the second post, we're introducing you to the recipients at University of Alabama. Read on to learn about their favorite recent reads and their recommendations for Kiddos!
Name: Karie DeermanHometown: West Blocton, Alabama
Teaching Focus: Multiple Abilities Program (Collaborative Special Education and Elementary Education)
Favorite Book I Read This Year: Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks. I love Nicholas Sparks' books, especially this one. You can really get into his books because the characters and emotions are so real. Once you start reading, you can't put it down.
My ReadKiddoRead Recommendation: The Cam Jansen series by Davis Adler. The mysteries in these books is so engaging that it makes you excited to finish the books and solve the mysteries. They are fun reads for young children making the transition to chapter books.
Name: Jessie DupreHometown: Willis, Texas
Teaching Focus: Elementary Education
Favorite Book I Read This Year: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. This book parallels the love story of Hosea and Gomer from the Bible. It's interesting to see how events in life can relate to things that happened many years ago.
My ReadKiddoRead Recommendation: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault. This book is fun to listen to and also helps the students learn their ABC's.
Name: Kirsten HawkinsHometown: Decatur, Alabama
Teaching Focus: Elementary Education
Favorite Book I Read This Year: Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks. I really enjoy books that have a combination of suspense and romance. This book makes the reader feel like they are a part of the story.
My ReadKiddoRead Recommendation: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee would be my recommendation to any young adult looking for a classic read! Another plus is that the story is set in Alabama. Roll Tide! For younger children, I would recommend any of the Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park. I grew up reading these stories. Barbara Park did a good job relating to kids and keeping them laughing!
Name: Heather HensonHometown: Vestavia Hills, Alabama
Teaching Focus: Elementary Education
Favorite Book I Read This Year: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. It is such a beautiful picture of pure and perfect love, and it parallels one of my favorite books in the Bible, Hosea.
My ReadKiddoRead Recommendation: The Christy Miller series by Robin Jones Gunn. Her books are very relatable, and I always felt like I was part of the story. The characters seem real, which made me want to keep reading to find out how their lives would turn out.
Name: Meredith HogueHometown: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Teaching Focus: Elementary Education
Favorite Book I Read This Year: The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I loved reading and learning about the South in the 1960s. I also enjoyed the maids' funny stories about the families they have worked for. The Help is a book that will keep you wanting to read more!
My ReadKiddoRead Recommendation: Frindle by Andrew Clements. I would recommend any book by Andrew Clements but this is my favorite. He is a great children's author and can relate to kids with his entertaining stories and characters.
Name: Brooke JacksonHometown: Clarksville, Tennessee
Teaching Focus: Elementary Education
Favorite Book I Read This Year: Now You See Her by James Patterson. I enjoyed reading this book because it portrayed how a young woman dealt with things that happens in her past and what she went through to protect the life and reputation. This book made me think about things I would do to protect my reputation.
My ReadKiddoRead Recommendation: The Giving Tree by Shel Siverstein. This book is a tale that is up to interpretation by the reader. When I read the book to a class of third graders, I use examples to illustrate the interpretations I take away from the book. For example, it demonstrates that you have to work for what you desire in life and that everything is not just given to you.
Name: Savannah PerkinsHometown: Mobile, Alabama
Teaching Focus: Early Childhood Special Education, specifically focused on Autism
Favorite Book I Read This Year: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I loved the history and the suspense.
My ReadKiddoRead Recommendation: Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. This book opens kids' eyes to other cultures and shows that everyone is equal.
Name: Caroline RectorHometown: Franklin, Tennessee
Teaching Focus: Elementary Education with a minor in Psychology
Favorite Book I Read This Year: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight. The book was a psychological thriller, my personal favorite, and I enjoyed the revelation of secrets and suspense that built up throughout the book leading to the true cause of Amelia's death.
My ReadKiddoRead Recommendation: A Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket. I read the entire series (all 13) for both Accelerated Reading and pleasure in middle school. Any child or young adult who loves suspense will become addicted to following the lives of the three Baudelaire orphans and the misfortune that follow them wherever they go.
Each year, The Patterson Family Foundation awards James Patterson Teacher Education Scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students that are studying education and are committed to teaching careers. Over the next few months, ReadKiddoRead will highlight Patterson Scholars at schools across the country. For this first post, we're introducing you to the eights recipients at Michigan State University. Read on to learn about their favorite recent reads and their recommendations for Kiddos!
Name: Carley M.Hometown: Walled Lake, Michigan
Teaching Focus: Elementary Education
Favorite Book I Read This Year: Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks. I love Nicholas Sparks books because I can feel all of the emotions the characters experience. I love when I feel like I could jump into the book and live the story.
My ReadKiddoRead Recommendation: Any of the Winnie the Pooh books. These were my favorite books as a child. There are so many life lessons and beautiful quotes hidden in children's literature!
Name: Alexis L.Hometown: New Boston, Michigan
Teaching Focus:Elementary Education with a focus on Language Arts
Favorite Book I Read This Year: Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult. I always enjoy her books, but I especially liked this one because it crossed so many different themes. It made you question the things you believe and what you think could actually be the truth.
My ReadKiddoRead Recommendation: Mick Harte Was Here by Barbara Park. My teacher read it to a small group of us in 5th grade, and it has stayed with me for all these years. It was such a moving book. I cried then, and I would probably cry if I read it again.
Name: Kelcey L.Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Teaching Focus: Elementary Education with a focus on Language Arts
Favorite Book I Read This Year: Wicked by Gregory Maguire. There was a lot of imagery and I could picture the musical while I was reading it. I also loved the storyline.
My ReadKiddoRead Recommendation: Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. It represents many different genres and it allows kids to begin analytical thinking at a young age.
Name: Jessica H.Hometown: Saline, Michigan
Teaching Focus: Special Education with a focus on Language Arts
Favorite Book I Read This Year: Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine. I loved this book because it was a drama written from the perspective of an autistic child. As a special education major, I found the book very interesting and worth reading!
My ReadKiddoRead Recommendation: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. This is one of my favorites because it is timeless. I enjoyed my mom reading it to me when I was young, and I can sill flip through it now and catch on to meaning I didn't notice before. It's a classic!
Name: Mary R.Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Teaching Focus: Special Education with a focus on Elementary Education
Favorite Book I Read This Year: The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. I really enjoyed this book because it was inspiring and thought-provoking, and gave me the chance to reflect on the meaning of my life here on earth.
My ReadKiddoRead Recommendation: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I recommend kids (of any age) to read this story. This story touches home to anyone of any age, exemplifying the true meaning of love and how we sometimes take it for granted. I love how emotional of a read it is.
Name: Sarah H.Hometown: Muskegon, Michigan
Teaching Focus: Elementary Education with a focus on Language Arts and Urban Education
Favorite Book I Read This Year: The Alex Cross series by James Patterson, As a recipient of his scholarship this year, I was very interested in reading some of his writing. My favorite thus far has been this series, because I was very intrigued by the mystery mixed with the strong emotions in the novels.
My ReadKiddoRead Recommendation: The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborn. I loved these books as a child because they were fun and interesting. I think these are great books for kids because each story is based on a historical event with a fun twist for kids.
Name: Maxx M.Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Teaching Focus: Elementary Education with a focus on Language Arts
Favorite Book I Read This Year: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I can't wait to read the sequel.
My ReadKiddoRead Recommendation: The Amelia Bedelia series by Peggy Parish. The kids I babysit and I love to read the series together, and I remember also loving them when I was younger. They are really fun reads!
Name: Gabrielle G.Hometown: Detroit, Michigan
Teaching Focus: Secondary English Education with a minor in History
Favorite Book I Read This Year: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. I recently read the Hunger Games series and I really liked the second book, Catching Fire, the best. I liked that Katniss was starting to realize who she was as a person and what she stood for even when faced with adversity.
My ReadKiddoRead Recommendation: The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. The books are a series of coming of age novels that evolve as Harry and his friends do. I grew up reading the books and I fell in love. One of the major lessons I learned was that you are responsible for your life and the different choices you decide to make.
By Francisca Goldsmith
Infopeople Project, California
Whether you are a parent, grandparent or teacher, if you were reading what everyone was reading in the mid-to-late 20th century, then you no doubt became acquainted with dystopian fiction through many now-classic books. Did you read Nobelist William Golding's Lord of the Flies? How about Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451? And had you already read Anthony Burgess' Clockwork Orange before Stanely Kubrick made the movie? Or did the movie lead you to the book?
The opposite of utopian fiction, which features a perfect world or society, dystopias are noted for possessing these qualities and themes:
• An imaginary future world or society
• Tightly controlled inhabitants
• Conformity as good and individuality as bad
• Lack of awareness by most that their circumstances are not utopian
• A main character who is frustrated by the controls and acts in spite of them
• Treats the author's perception of a problem in the current real world through its exaggeration in the story's universe
Until recently, dystopian fiction was created by authors writing for adults, an audience that brings not only awareness of social values but also their own deeply-held beliefs about those values to the book. The titles listed above appear on secondary school reading lists but weren't crafted with teen readers in mind. In this decade, however, we are seeing some fresh new novels that offer teens dystopian reading intended for their open–and opening–perceptions of the world and its problems.
Why would kids want to read about a hero or heroine pitching his or her own individual efforts against a totalitarian society? Won't that turn the readers into rebels in our own imperfect–but hardly dystopian–society? Are these books luring unsuspecting kids into a negative mindset about what we as parents, grandparents and other responsible, mature adults find good about our society?
In a word: no.
Worries like these overlook some very important truths about teen readers, even ones as young as 12 or 14. Jaymee, a 13-year-old eighth grader, reveals a lot about herself and her fellow middle schoolers when she says:
"I think dystopian books can help kids because the themes and lessons they have can help people with problems they have or might have and can give answers about what they want to talk about. One of those answers for me is 'never go crazy over power,' which I learned from [Frank Beddor's] The Looking Glass Wars. Power is like a scar, and it can ruin your life. Themes like this help me in my own life."
The series Jaymee names is a well-crafted and clever take on Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Alice through the Looking Glass fantasies, which were decidedly neither utopian nor dystopian. In Beddor's hands, the power struggles Carroll's Alice had with the Red Queen are magnified. Even the power the author, Lewis Carroll, had as an adult over his character model and original audience, Alice Lydell, are made explicit. But the magic of the story and the art of storytelling aren't compromised.
When we look at Jaymee's comments, we learn as much about the kind of reader she is as we learn about why she likes The Looking Glass Wars. We know she likes to read and understands how stories "work." She's willing – and able – to "work," too – and to consider her own world beyond the book in hand. (What author wouldn't step up and thank her?) We also see that Jaymee feels concerned with blemishes as 'scars," but she can make the jump from physical to existential.
In short, reading this dystopian series enlightens as well as entertains Jaymee. It's not dry. It's not preachy. It connects her to ideas of her own and assists her in assimilating information to make it her own knowledge.
Faith, another eighth grader, and Jaymee's best friend, puts it this way:
"It's better to learn life lessons from what you read than being told by your parents. It's easier to get it and hold onto life lessons from stories when you read it and think about it and learn from it. If you just get told, it doesn't stick, but when you see what happens in a story, it helps you to develop, shows you how it's better to do this than that."
Fourteen-year-old Richard pitches in:
"It helps me to think that our world or society can change, that I could help to change it."
Besides talking about how reading dystopian fiction helps them to think about the real world, these teen dystopian fans share how these stories make them feel as they read:
"I find it interesting and comforting at the same time. You can see how this could take you to the next level and how books don't have to be normal." (Jaymee)
"I like the complexity! I think other kids who don't like complex stories–like the time it takes to get into watching Dr. Who—probably wouldn't like that." (Faith)
"Yeah. I like twisted books where you take one thing and change it, and something different happens from what could have." (Jaymee)
"Reading about other worlds and imaginary cultures is exciting. It's interesting to know that there are other ways to form a society — different from the way we have formed ours." (Richard)"I advise adults to read [Suzanne Collins'] Hunger Games because it takes a teenager's point of view and gives a reminder of how we think." (Faith)
"It's good especially if they have children and really really want to know how we think. Also adults could learn about warning signals when things might not be right with a teen." (Jaymee)
Once these teen readers had broached the idea of adults reading teen books, I asked them if anyone can be the wrong age to read dystopian fiction.
"Definitely! I don't think you should read them if you are below fifth grade. It's not that the ideas are bad. I would love little children to understand what's going on in our world, but if you hear stuff that your mind can't understand, you worry too much — like a six-year-old would reading the Hunger Games." (Faith)
"[Younger kids] can't get the concepts because they don't really know how our own society works yet, so they can't see what is different in dystopian fiction." (Richard)
Richard's point is important for parents and other adults to understand: teen readers do believe that they have a grasp on how society "works." Anyone who has ever been in a middle school knows that this is, to a large degree, true: teens are able to consider life with more abstract understanding than their younger siblings can. This is something that we adults often do not recognize.
"I believe parents shouldn't always dictate what you should read, because teens want to get a taste and opinions of life that are different. If you can't read something based on the cover or title, then that's not fair. Sometimes kids should explore on their own just a little, even if their parents want to shape their future." (Faith)
That freedom to explore through reading dystopian fiction isn't about wanting a blueprint for destruction or rebellion. It's the thinking teen's portal to seeing our own world with room for creativity and a private place to experience emotions.
"[James Patterson's] Maximum Ride series' best audience is teenagers because I know a lot of teenagers want excitement. They fantasize about it and want to read about it. It has a little drama in it, but the drama can be sad as well as exciting. I even cried reading these." (Faith)
"I think teens can bring their own life experience to reading dystopias like Maximum Ride, seeing how your life is like what is in the book, but also different. You can relate to the characters and you can relate your own family to it." (Jaymee)
"I wish others could also experience that feeling that they can change things. That we could remake our society." (Richard)
"It's the small things that happen that make it easier for you to connect to the characters. [Veronica Roth's] Divergent is teen-focused. The romance is targeted to a teen audience. The characters get split by personality, but kids have a choice of where they can go, like the ones who value honesty are black and white clothed and become lawyers. Teens are just starting to become involved in life and want to be connected and want to have ideas about what could happen in the future and its possibilities and what would I do– what 'if…'." (Faith)
A difference between the mid-20th century dystopian novels written for adults and the ones teens are reading from the wealth of young adult fiction available today is the series element. Whether dystopian fans or fans of other genres, teens love series, as do the authors who write for teens. What's that about?
Reading a series brings some guarantees to the teen reader. One of the simplest of these is that the experience of a great read won't end with the last page of a book; another installment is or soon will be available. However, there are other guarantees a series offers, especially to teens who are in a life development phase where changes are not only frequent and sometimes bordering on traumatic, but also appearing unwanted. Being able to rely on a favorite set of characters or a favorite author to continue to provide more gives teen readers some self-chosen comfort. (Yes, it's a little odd to think of dystopian series as offering comfort, but they do for many teens).
As Jaymee, Faith and Richard have noted, although not using these words, experiencing dystopian concepts, plots and characters offers catharsis mixed with the enjoyment of epiphanies about their own lives. There's only so much catharsis and insight a reader can take at any one time, however, so a series gives teen readers the necessary breathing spell between volumes. Knowing this, too, allows the authors of such series to provide new elements for consideration in successive books of a series. That differs from series books for younger children, where repetition of favorite tropes and plot arcs are the name of the game for both readers and writers.
Yes, teen readers do love dystopian fiction. But the reasons why aren't bleak ones. Next time you hear a teen waxing enthusiastic about such a book or series, you can be sure you are hearing the voice of someone who is helping her- or himself to grow empathy and analytical thinking, two hallmarks of maturing young adults.
To help you find some popular and well-written dystopian young adult books, here's a list to fill a bookshelf:
Volume 1: The Looking Glass Wars
Volume 2: Seeing Redd
Volume 3: Archenemy
Also by Frank Beddor:
Looking Glass Wars
Mad with Wonder
Zen of Wonder (forthcoming)
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Volume 1: The Hunger Games
Volume 2: Catching Fire
Volume 3: Mockingjay
Also by Suzanne Collins:
Gregor the Overlander
Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane
Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods
Gregor and the Marks of Secret
Gregor and the Code of Claw
Matched, by Ally Condie
Volume 2: Crossed
Volume 3: Reached
The Maze Runner, by James Dashner
Volume 2: The Scorch Trials
Volume 3: The Death Cure
Also by James Dashner
The Kill Order, prequel to The Maze Runner series
Volume 1: Maximum Ride
Volume 2: School's Out Forever
Volume 3: Saving the World
Volume 4: The Final Warning
Volume 5: Max
Volume 7: Angel
Volume 8: Nevermore
Also by James Patterson
Maximum Ride graphic novels in six manga format volumes
The Jenna Fox Chronicles, by Mary E. Pearson
Volume 2: The Fox Inheritance
Volume 3: Fox Forever
Divergent, by Veronica Roth
Divergent 3 (forthcoming)