This week we have both new and old books on our radar, and my kids are learning that books can serve more than one purpose. My 8-year-old is using them to learn more about history, as well as using them to understand why bad things happen in the world. (This is truly a foreign concept to most kids.) My 6-year-old is now reading required books at school and using an educational website to read books for school at home, so when it’s time for fun reading, he just wants a fun and silly book. (Which I completely understand!) What are your kids reading this week? Let me know!
I Survived the Attacks of September 11th, 2001
We hadn’t talked to my 8-year-old about 9/11, but he found out about it this year and had a ton of questions. While we answered as simply as we could and focused on how many people helped after, he still wanted to know more. Finding books about 9/11 for this age was harder than I thought-most of the books are written for ages 10 and up. But he loves the I Survived series, so when I saw there was one for this event, I knew it would be perfect. It’s about an 11-year-old boy who goes into Manhattan to find his friend’s dad, and he just happens to do this on 9/11. It is told from his perspective, and covers a wide array of issues and emotions. The book is well done, and handles 9/11 sensitively and honestly, and it also opened up some great discussions about that day. This can be such a hard topic to navigate, especially since most of us still remember that day very clearly, and this book does a great job in making 9/11 a bit easier to understand for the younger crowd.
The 52-Story Treehouse
We are continuing with the Treehouse series, and have started the 4th! As I’ve said before, these books are wild and crazy, and perfect for elementary aged kids who like funny and silly stories. In this one, Andy and Terry’s publisher, Mr. Big Nose, has gone missing, and they have to figure out what happened to him before they publish their next book. Their new iteration of their treehouse includes a make your own pizza parlor, a detective agency, and a ninja snail training academy. Sound ridiculous? It is, and that’s why it’s great!
What We’re Reading Together
Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire
We are still working our way through the 4th Harry Potter book! This is a long one, and we only read it together before bed, so we don’t have as much time to read it as we did during the summer. That’s ok with me, though, because this is my favorite Harry Potter book! I do think we’ll take a break after this one and move on to The Chronicles of Narnia, because I think books 5-7 are a little too dark and scary for now. (Unless my 8-year-old talks me into them. Which he probably will!)
Y’all, you know how much I loved Leah Weiss’s If the Creek Don’t Rise. If you don’t, please read my review of it HERE, so that we can all love it together.
I don’t do this often, but I loved this book so much (and Leah is incredibly nice) that I’m excited to partner with Sourcebooks for a ridiculously awesome giveaway in honor of Leah’s debut novel. (And when you read If the Creek Don’t Rise, I promise you’ll be shocked that it’s her debut. It is that good.) This giveaway includes some amazing Southern items, including delicious biscuit mix (you have to make biscuits if you’re Southern), whiskey glasses, and a nice, big bottle of Southern Comfort. Also included in the giveaway? A Draper James tote bag that is SO cute. (And in case you forgot, Draper James is fellow Southerner Reese Witherspoon’s company.)
All you have to do is click this link to enter:
Good luck, y’all!![Top]
There are some things, after all, that Sally Owens knows for certain: Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plant roses and lavender, for luck. Fall in love whenever you can.
Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite authors of all time. If her name is on the cover of a book, I will read it, and I have yet to find a book of hers that I don’t love. Practical Magic is one of her classics, and I gave it a re-read this year in anticipation of Fall (this will definitely show up on my cozy fall reads list) and her new book, The Rules of Magic, a prequel to Practical Magic. Practical Magic is the perfect example of magical realism, and the number one book I recommend to people looking for something in that genre.
Some fates are guaranteed, no matter who tries to intervene.
Gillian and Sally are members of the Owens family, a Massachusetts family known for being surrounded by odd happenings. The sisters grew up being surrounded by rumors, fear from other kids, and a bit of fear from themselves over their own untrained powers. But while the entire town seems to be afraid of the Owens family, women still show up in the middle of the night to request magical help from Gillian and Sally’s aunts, and the sisters want no part of it. But even as they try to run away from their family (both literally and figuratively), they discover that their connection to magic and each other cannot be outrun.
Alice Hoffman is such a talented writer, and she knows how to bend the rules of the real world in just the right way. Sally and Gillian are relatable, even though they’re witches, and their world seems very real, even though magic reigns. And I don’t mean pointing a wand and yelling spells magic. The magic in this book (strange concoctions, incantations, herbs) is really a way to show that these women are special, and intuitive. Hoffman uses it as a way to show how women bond together in ways not everyone understands. This is a grownup fairy tale, but more along the lines of Grimm than Disney.
While some might consider this an escapist read, I really don’t. Yes, magic is woven into the story, but there is a real theme of survival as well. The sisters and their aunts have struggled with abuse, bullying, and never really being able to fit into society, yet they continue on. They keep finding ways to get around all that and to keep living, something I think most people can relate to. And Hoffman’s writing is so beautiful that you almost forget you’re reading about tragic situations.
If you like magical realism, you will love Practical Magic. If you’re not sure about it, or you don’t usually read this genre, give this one a try. I think there are enough connections to the “real” world and common threads running through it that you might love it as well!
It is Banned Books Week 2017! Every year in September, the American Library Association celebrates the freedom to read and freedom of information by highlighting classically-banned books as well as the most frequently challenged books each year. A lot of the books I’m aware of, but some of them surprised me. (James and the Giant Peach? Really?) Every year, people officially request (challenge) to have certain books removed from libraries, and the fact that this still happens kind of shocks me. A lot of the books are children’s books and YA books, in an attempt to block certain subjects (generally race, gender issues, basically anything considered diverse content) from kids. And like a kid, if you tell me not to read a book, I’m definitely going to read it. In my opinion, censorship has no place in libraries, bookstores, or anywhere else that books are available for the general public. Are certain books geared toward older kids or adults? Yes, of course. Waiting until someone is a certain age to read specific books is completely different from wanting books banned from EVERYONE.
It’s important to bring attention to this issue and to read banned books! Why? To promote freedom of choice and the freedom to read anything we want. I’m sure some people have the best intentions when they challenge books, but others are simply trying to push their own agendas onto everyone else. Harry Potter has been challenged so many times because some people (a pretty small group, I’d say, given Potter’s continued popularity) think it promotes witchcraft and corrupt ideas. Those people seem to ignore the fact that Harry’s true power comes from his mother’s love, not magic, and that the entire series advocates for family, friendship, love, being inclusive, and knowledge. Not so scandalous after all!
I’ve listed a few of my favorite banned books below, as well as some of the most popular and regularly-challenged books. Many of them have been challenged because they include diverse content, something we should all be reading MORE of, not less.
Have you read any of these? Which banned books are on your reading list this week and this year? Do any of these titles surprise you?
You can find a complete list of challenged and banned books at the ALA website HERE.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls
Since we have been reading longer books together lately, my kids are still working on The Wizard of Oz and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire this week. Instead of posting what my kids checked out at the school library, I thought I would write a quick post about a genre that’s really been working for us the past year, and why I think it works particularly well for a lot of kids.
A few people I’ve talked to about books automatically say, “Oh, I don’t read fantasy. I just can’t get into it.” But when I mention books like Harry Potter, they make an exception. Fantasy definitely includes books that are heavy with dragons, fairies, different realms, and a good dose of magic, and I can understand why people might not care for that specific category of fantasy. But when comes to a more realistic approach to fantasy, I think there are a few books that appeal to a pretty large group of people, and can help children understand and work through some big issues. These books feature regular humans who have special qualities, or animals who function as humans. They use regular characters and put them in extraordinary situations that just happen to include magic, but they are more easily relatable than characters in more hardcore fantasy novels.
As an adult, I enjoy reading books that are based in real life and deal with real issues. I like to see how different types of people react in tough situations. I love reading fantasy, but it’s more of a fun escape for me. For kids, however, while they may also like reading books about “real” people (The Baby-Sitter’s Club will always have my heart.), fantasy is a way to read about tough subjects while still keeping themselves a bit emotionally separated.
I’ll use Harry Potter as an example, since we’re all probably familiar with that story. The series covers some BIG topics, including the loss of parents, bullying, feeling weird or not like everyone else, being good (or not so good) in school, and the fact that there are evil people out there who seem to have no reason for it, and who don’t learn a lesson and reform themselves. Readers, those are major topics that could upset the toughest of adults. But in a fantasy setting, kids can identify with those characters, and see how they handle those difficult situations, but there is a bit of protection in place. Magic, other-worldly creatures, and invisibility cloaks all provide a bit of separation, and that allows kids to process those big ideas without becoming emotionally overwhelmed.
My 8-year-old and I have talked about how it isn’t magic that protects Harry from Voldemort, but his mother’s love, and how his mom is always providing whatever protection she can, even though she’s not there. That is a big, impactful subject, not necessarily easy to understand. But in the world of Harry Potter, it becomes a more manageable topic. My son couldn’t really be in Harry’s situation, because we aren’t wizards, but now he understands how a parent tries to protect a child, no matter what.
My 6-year-old has been loving The Wizard of Oz more than I thought, and he has made several insightful comments about Dorothy wanting to go home and why the scarecrow, tin woodman, and lion might want what they want from the wizard. It also illustrates the idea of good versus evil, and how terrible accidents can happen, even when you didn’t mean for them to. (Dorothy really didn’t mean to kill either witch!)
If you think your kids won’t like reading fantasy, or you’ve always viewed it as a fluffy genre, give some of these books a try! Especially if you have a highly sensitive, or more sensitive, child, it might be a nice way to read a fun book and have some great conversations at the same time. These books all feature characters who must overcome some kind of adversity and deal with big, important issues in a fantastical way that is way easier for kids to understand than a more straightforward book might be.
The Harry Potter series
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Matilda (I classify this as partial fantasy, because there is some magic involved, and the setting is certainly not in the real world.)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
James and the Giant Peach
The Chronicles of Narnia
The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1)
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
The Land of Stories series
The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread