I am constantly looking for books that are rewarding, yet challenging, and that will help get kids, ages nine through teens, excited to read. This is a critical developmental age as children become more involved in extracurricular activities. However, if they find books that are exciting, engaging, interesting and/or entertaining, they will find the time to read. Here is a list of books that are not only page turners but are beautifully written as well. I predict that some of these books will become Newbery winners!
Just My Luck, by Cammie McGovern, has fourth grader, Benny, trying to deal with many problems and inadequacies. His brother, George, is autistic but he can ride a bicycle easily. Benny can’t. His older brother, Martin, is exceptional at football. Benny has yet to discover anything he is good at. When his dad takes him to a nearby race track to practice riding his bike Benny swerves to miss a dog, falls and hits his dad in the head with his helmet. Now his dad is in the hospital with a head injury and Benny blames himself for his dad’s accident. However, he begins to learn – through wonderful advice from his mom – that he can find good in everything we do by looking to help others. This becomes the mantra of his attitude. Through service and friendship, Benny can find his “luck” – and his happiness.
Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty, is an exciting mystery about girls that go missing in a large mansion. Serafina, along with her Pa, have continued staying at this giant mansion after helping build it. They fix up broken parts and help maintain the building. However, for reasons unknown to Serafina, she is not to let anyone living there know that she also abides there. So she secretly skulks through heating vents and other secret places so she won’t be seen. When she sees someone in a dark cloak whisking a girl down deep in the mansion, she follows. She sees something very peculiar when the cloak seems to come alive. There are two more books written in this series that are just as captivating and thrilling as this one!
The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown, begins with Roz, a robot, waking up on a deserted island full of wild animals. She soon realizes she has to adapt to these conditions in order to survive. After surviving a threatening storm and a bear attack, she becomes friends with these wild inhabitants and is finally feeling at home in this new environment. But where she came from, and how she arrived at this island is about to catch up with her and turn everything upside down.
Story Thieves, by James Riley, is the first book in an exciting fantasy adventure. When Owen sees a classmate jump into a book, he can’t believe his eyes. He soon learns that Bethany is half fictional and has this amazing ability to jump in and out of adventures. He wants desperately to jump into the story with Bethany and become a hero. Bethany allows him to come along only if he obeys the serious rules of never interacting with the characters in the story. When he doesn’t follow and disobeys, the story within the story becomes an astonishing exploitation of what happens to Owen.
All Rise For the Honorable Perry T. Cook, by Leslie Connor, showcases a very unusual life of Perry. He has lived his entire eleven years inside a prison. When his mom was incarcerated there, the warden gave her permission to allow Jim to live there as well. He lives in a separate room and the entire prison community has become his extended family. He goes to school nearby but can never let friends come over. When the DA hears about this situation, he takes him away from his mom and home and he now lives with the DA’s family temporarily. He now feels like he’s in a prison. There is much to learn from this exceptionally written story, including family, love and support.
Pax, by Sara Pennypacker, is a very powerful story richly told alternately though the eyes of a boy, Peter, and a fox, Pax. Although the story never reveals the time or year these events take place, it seems to be in the near future. Peter has raised Pax from a kit and Pax has become his beloved pet. When his father has to leave for war, Peter has to go 300 miles away to live with his grandfather and cannot take Pax with him. He abandons Pax on the side of the road and goes to his Grandfather’s house. But guilt takes over and he secretly leaves in the night for the long trek back to find his cherished pet. Meanwhile, Pax is having grave difficulty living in the wild for the first time. Pax begins to learn, through instinct and distant memories, how to live as a wild fox. There are strong themes to learn in this amazing story: love, peace and compassion are just a few of them.
Big Wish, by Brandon Robshaw, begins with Sam making a wish for a million wishes when he sees a shooting star. He discovers that his wishes must have come true when the next day, he wishes to have a day off from school. His wish is immediately granted. He begins to make more and more wishes and they become unreasonable. He then learns some tough lessons that even wishes can’t help with and Sam becomes a better person because of it.
A Nearer Moon, by Melanie Crowder, is a magical adventure. Luna has heard her entire life that the swamp where she lives used to be beautiful and filled with fairies, sprites and all kinds of magical beings. But now the water is dark and full of sickness. When her little sister falls into it and becomes gravely ill, Luna must travel into dark places her mother told her to never go in order to save her sister. This is a thin book and fairly quick read, but masterly written making it a perfect read-out-loud.
Raymie Nightingale, by Kate DiCamillo, resonates a longing that will touch your heart and soul. Raymie has decided to try out for the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition so that her father will see her picture in the paper and come back home. He recently left her family for a younger woman and Raymie has her heart set on getting him back. When she enters a baton twirling class to help her achieve her goal she never learns how to twirl. But Raymie meets two other girls who have their own difficulties and have signed up for this class for resolution of their issues. The bond between these girls, and the lessons they learn, are touching and uplifting.