Say the term "children's books." What comes to mind? Perhaps Alice in Wonderland? Or the stories about Peter Rabbit or illustrated books about that naughty but clever pig Olivia? Children today are so lucky to have all these wonderful books that did not exist in my day (back in the day).
In the children's section of my local branch library these were the books: all the various of fairy tales--Blue Fairy Book, Yellow Fairy Book, the Brothers Grimm, Mother Goose, Hans Christian Andersen's tales, all the Black Stallion novels, the dog books--Lassie, Big Red--Nancy Drew, the Bobsey Twins, and the Hardy Boys mysteries.
By high school I was reading the classics, not realizing these were books I was supposed to hate. Ha! My favorite books were Wuthering Heights and Exodus and Gone With the Wind. "Heathcliff," I yelled across the imaginary moors of my mind, just as Catherine did. I feared what was in the attic in Rochester's mansion in Jane Eyre. "Oh fiddle-dee-dee," I declared with Miss Scarlett when perplexed. And, oh, how I wanted Rose to choose Mac in Rose in Bloom, THE most romantic book I've ever read (at least from the memory of a sixth-grader)
Children today, of course, still have these books, but they have so much more, oh so much more. Lately, I've been reading as many of these books as I can to be an efficient recommending machine as librarian in my school. I want to give readers as many books as I can for variety, theme, appeal to both boys and girls, and so on. Here I go:
First, the best I've read: Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech. Two children, twins, boy and girl, age 13, are the main characters. They live in an orphanage and go to live with an eccentric, aging, Baby Boomer couple. Here's a link to my Amazon review: http://www.amazon.com/review/R1R41QEP5LUGAX/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm
Other books by Ms Creech include Love That Dog, Hate That Cat, Walk Two Moons.
Books by Robert Cormier: These are NOT heart-warming and are serious and reflective of a terrible human condition. Not for easily disturbed older children and middle school students. Why do I recommend them? Because they do reflect life--unfortunately.
The Rag and Bone Shop is profound. It will haunt the reader long after the last page is turned. A friend and I still disagree concerning the ending. Other Cormier's books I can recommend is We All Fall Down and The Chocolate War. Again, these are not happy books.
In my introductory comments I listed Rose in Bloom and want to call attention again to this, my personal favorite book in middle school. I would love to see this group of students begin a renaissance with Louisa May Alcott books. I read and loved them all in the sixth grade! Others: Little Women, Jo's Boys, Little Men, The Eight Cousins (the precursor to Rose in Bloom).
Another favorite writer in middle school in my library is Caroline Cooney with her milk carton series as a purely popular favorite.
Janie finds her picture on the the milk carton one day during lunch. Shock is hardly the word for her reaction. Why is SHE on that carton? The explanation is beyond the pale. The next three novels take up Janie's search for the truth of her life.
Others in the series include The Voice on the Radio, Whatever Happened to Janie?, and What Janie Found. Read the entire series.
Then find Code Orange, a young adult medical thriller. The main character finds a medical journal left by his grandfather, opens it, perhaps looking for a topic for is science fair project, finds a packet, opens it and, poof, this powdery substance explodes. Then he fears he has been exposed to smallpox. The novel is a race against time to discover the truth.
I recently discovered Gary Paulsen's Hatchet series and could not put these four books down. Hatchet is the first of these survival novels. Twelve-year-old Brian crashes into a lake in the Canadian wilderness on his way to spend some time with his father. The pilot has a heart attack. The novel tells the story of how Brian survives with only a hatchet. Imagine three months of living on your own in survival mode. After he was found and returned home, Brian found it difficult to live in civilization again. The next three novels detail more trips into the wilderness. Each is as exciting as the next: Brian's Winter, The River, and Brian's Return.
Another thriller/adventure is Elephant Run by Roland Smith. It is set in Burma (now Myanmar) during World War II. Fourteen-year-old Nick Freestone is sent from bombarded London to his father's teak plantation. A hidden interior of the plantation provides escape from Japanese military who confiscate the plantation for its own headquarters in Burma. A fascinating story of Japanese occupation and elephant handling.
Another exciting read is The Great Wide Sea, a first novel by M.H. Herlong. Not one word is false in this first-person narration by Ben, a fifteen-year-old who loves sailing with his father and brothers. After the mother dies, the father kind of goes off the deep end, selling the house and all their possessions to buy a sailboat and they go off around the hundreds of islands that make up the Bahamas. One morning the father is gone and the three boys must go into survival mode. What a page-turner!!
Then there's Write Before Your Eyes, with a little wordplay in the title. Twelve-year-old Gracie acquires a strange journal at an estate sale, only to be haunted by "the Cheshire Cat" throughout the novel. He wants the journal back. You see, whatever the writer puts into the journal comes true! What escapades ensue!
Part II later
Books on my very ambitious TBR list (*denotes read)
- *Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox
- The Odd Women by George Gissing
- The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson
- How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell
- The Cod Tale by Mark Kurlansky
- In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
- *Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
- Dag Hammarskjold by Elizabeth Rider Montgomery
- The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael L. Munk
- Children of Strangers by Lyle Saxon
- Spiritual Writings by Flannery O'Connor
- Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O'Connor and the Catholic Grotesque by Gilbert H. Muller
- The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
- Flannery O'Connor's South by Robert Coles
- Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
- Sylvanus Now by Donna Morrissey
- *Vincent de Paul by Margaret Ann Hubbard
- Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
- A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking
- The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
- Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
- *Ruined by Paula Morris
- Say You're Not One of Them by Uwem Akpan
- Wandering Star by J.M.G. Le Clezio
- Silence by Shusaku Endo
- *The Assault by Harry Mulisch
- Kari's Saga by Robert Jansson
- *The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal
- Western Skies by Joseph Conrad
- *The Giver by Lois Lowery
- *Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski