Grab some books and keep the kids reading
Most of us, of whatever age, by a simple act of memory and willpower can revisit distant summers in our imagination and discover there the bright, shining pleasures of being a child. Trips to the beach, recreating Civil War battles in the woods surrounding my house, playing badminton and roll-the-bat in our side yard: these will remain a part of my interior landscape until death or dementia erases them along with the rest of me.
One of my great delights in what F. Scott Fitzgerald called “my younger and more vulnerable years” was reading. Boonville, North Carolina, had no public library at that time, a sad circumstance since righted by my best friend’s mother, Mrs. Frieda Speer. Had that library existed 50-odd years ago, I have no doubt that I would have become one of its chief patrons. As it was, however, I stormed aboard the book-mobile on its once-weekly visit to our street, rode occasionally into Yadkinville with my father to visit the public library, and spent hours in the front window of the Weatherwax Pharmacy, where there were comic books — Classics Illustrated, Sergeant Rock and Superman — and several dozen different magazines. Mr. Weatherwax allowed me to read unmolested, perhaps because my father was the town’s only doctor, perhaps because he thought my presence provided a living advertisement for passerby to visit his store.
These were the years when I read the Hardy Boys, dozens of volumes from the Childhood of Famous Americans series, histories of American heroes and most of the stories, poetry and biographies in the Childcraft Books purchased by my mother. My brother and I shared a room, and we would read in bed before sleeping and break open a book before rising. I loved to read on the sofa in our living room, listening to my mother play the show tunes she loved on a stereo as big as a steamer trunk. Back then I could read for an hour solid stretched out on the grass, a feat unimaginable now, or sitting in a tree, another position which I cannot today hope to attain.
Most of my grandchildren are readers as well, not as dedicated or as voracious as I, but they still like books. The older female cousins, for example, enjoy many of the books their mothers enjoyed: Little House on the Prairie, the Magic Tree House books, Nancy Drew (the twins particularly love this series) and books on horses.
Curious as to what books particularly appealed to elementary school readers this summer, I visited my local library and spoke with the children’s librarian. During our conversation a 12-year-old girl who was working as a volunteer ceased her shelving of DVDs and also began making recommendations. Here, in no particular order, are some of the books they introduced to me.
Rachel Renee Russell’s Dork Diaries is a series of stories about Nikki Maxwell and her friends told by Nikki in diary form. The illustrations are amusing, the stories should appeal to those in upper elementary school or possibly middle school, and Rachel Russell displays her sense of humor in her author’s note, where she tells her readers that she prefers writing books to working as an attorney, “mainly because books are a lot more fun and pajamas and bunny slippers aren’t allowed in court.”
In their format — drawings, text that looks handwritten rather than typed — Russell’s Dork Diaries look a lot like Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Here we follow Greg Heffley in middle school. Greg suffers all the angst of that tender — to some of us, awful — age, and we see him involved in a series of physical and emotional collusions with his family and fellow students. A middle-school boy I taught a few years ago was enamored of these books and highly recommended them during a discussion on reading with the classmates.
The girl I met in the library gave a similar thumbs-up for yet another series. When the librarian asked her to recommend a favorite book, this kid cried out “The Land of Stories!”, practically took me by the hand, and led me to this series of books on the library shelves, books I had never heard of. “These are my favorites,” she said, and so along with the librarian’s selections I took home Volume I of The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell.
I just spent half an hour reading the first 40 pages, and fell in love with Alex and Conner Bailey, twins who are the central heroes, and the mystery book given them by their grandmother, the Land of Stories where fairy tales become real. The action is fast-paced, the characters are real, and the quirky approach to fairy tales, at least as written in the beginning of the book, should catch the attention of a variety of readers. These I will share with my granddaughters, one of whom keeps requesting more adventure books.
Other books recommended by the librarian include The Sisters Grimm, The Fairy-Tale Detectives, in which sisters Daphne and Sabrina, descendants of the Brothers Grimm, must solve mysteries based on fairy-tales; Tui T. Sutherland’s Wings of Fire series, a series about dragons; and I Funny: A Middle School Story by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein that tells of Jamie Grimm, a boy bound to a wheelchair who also wants to be a comedian.
So there you are, some books for ages 10 to 14 (And maybe older, as I will be reading The Land of Stories). Remember: I didn’t read these books. The librarian recommended them.
Try these books or ask your local children’s librarian for recommendations. Investigate the book online if you have misgivings. The Land of Stories, for example, has some strong language issues, according to one reader.
Grab some books, good books, entertaining books and keep the kids reading this summer.