Here are a few of my favorite titles!
- A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. This is one of the most beautifully written children’s books that I’ve read lately and I’ve really been promoting this book to my middle school age kiddos. The book begins with a troubled little boy who receives night-time visits from our antagonist, our bad guy, a monster who lives in the cemetery next door. We don’t know exactly what’s wrong with this little boy but he appears to be neglected and something just isn’t right. As the story progresses, we learn that the little boy’s mother is very ill and the little boy’s home situation is tenuous and framed with great uncertainly. Here’s where the book begins it’s beautiful shift. As we read, we come to realize that the antagonist really isn’t a monster at all. Instead, this boy is facing an internal struggle while trying to deal with problems much greater than problems other children his age typically face. The resolution of the story is one of realistic hope. For many children, it will be the first story they read that doesn’t deliver a happy ending but instead delivers a realistic but optimistic hope for the boy’s future. I LOVE THIS BOOK!
- The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. I would say that this book would be best enjoyed by students in maybe grades 3-6. This is another beautifully written book about a beautiful but vain, uncaring porcelain rabbit named Edward. An unfortunate event at sea causes Edward to become separated from his owner. He sinks to the bottom of the ocean where after a very long wait, he is rescued by a humble fisherman who takes Edward home as a present for his wife. He hears the stories of the fisherman and his wife and gets his first, unappreciated glimpse of humility and a different, simpler type of life. Unfortunately, Edward isn’t meant to remain with that family and he finds himself in the hands of many owners. Each time, he gains a little bit better perspective of the world and the meaning of love. Will Edward ever truly learn humility and how to love?
- Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate. Jackson is our main character and his family is being evicted AGAIN! Jackson remembers the last time this happened and how hard it was for his family and himself. He remembers watching his mother beg for food. He remembers sleeping in the family car and having no privacy. He remembers eating vending machine meals instead of real food because his mother had nowhere to cook. That was the last time he saw Crenshaw, an imaginary cat who visits him when times get tough. Jackson knows Crenshaw isn’t real but he also can’t control Crenshaw’s “visits.” Sure enough, Jackson and his family are forced to leave their home and Jackson with the help of his imaginary friend, must find a way to deal with his very real problems.
- What Do You Do With a Problem? and What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom. Ok, these are picture books that I just so happen to believe are perfect for almost any kid to read or be read. The main character is a little boy who just happens to look like Zelda from my childhood videogames. The boy doesn’t really have a name and that’s ok because both stories are written from a first person perspective. In What Do You Do With a Problem?, the little boy finds himself with a problem and he has no idea what to do about it. He decides to ignore his problem but instead of going away, it just gets bigger and bigger until one day, he is forced to confront this huge problem. This is a wonderful “how to” suggestion for all kids facing a problem on their own. In What Do You Do With An Idea?, this same little boy finds a tiny little idea. At first, he is unsure what to do but ultimately, he decides to nurture it and give it things to make it grow. The boy is ultimately rewarded for his efforts because he gets to see his idea grow into something absolutely beautiful.
- 90 Miles to Havana by Enrique Flores-Galbis. As a student, I was never a fan of history. Memorizing facts and dates was just too boring to keep my mind entertained and to this day, most of the history knowledge that I have in my old thinker has come from first reading a great piece of historical fiction and then researching on my own to learn more. This book is great because it inspired that same journey and now I know more about the history of Cuba as well as the Cuban-American relationship. This is a sentimental story about a boy named Julian who takes an unexpected journey with his two older brothers to the U.S. shortly after Fidel Castro comes to power in Cuba. Julian becomes part of Operation Peter Pan which actually helped over 14,000 Cuban children enter the U.S. as refugees in a time when there was a great fear that many of these children would be sent to labor camps and taken from their families if they remained in their home country. When I read this book, I could feel Julian’s fear of leaving home and going to a foreign country. I hurt and sympathized with Julian while he experienced being mistreated and undervalued by both his family and everyday citizens of the U.S. who could only see a skinny boy who was “different” and who couldn’t speak the language. Also, being a teacher, I celebrated at the end when it was his teacher who helped Julian finally express his unique experiences and their value to his classmates and family. I loved this book!
- Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko. This story takes place on Alcatraz Island in 1935. This is a well written story about a family who struggles and sacrifices everything to give their older daughter, born with autism, her best possible chance at an education during a time when the education of children with disabilities was often unheard of. I love that this story weaves actual history into an otherwise work of fiction. In reality, it was common practice for the guards to bring their families onto Alcatraz island and there were actual apartments where the families could live. Rent was expensive in San Francisco and these apartments were much cheaper. The families that lived there were often quoted as saying that it was safer on the island because all the criminals were already locked up. This is a great read partly because of the interesting history that’s woven into the book but also because the characters are just so so imperfectly human. This is another great read!