The books that shaped my love of reading

When I think about what was transformative in my experience as a reader, I think about three specific books. Some readers I talk to cannot remember ever not being a reader–he or she walked into kindergarten ready and eager to read. This was not me.

I don’t really remember reading voraciously until the fourth grade. My wonderful fourth grade teacher, Ms. Newland, handed each child in my class a wrapped Christmas gift the day we left for winter break in December of 1988. (Wow! Did I just write 1988?!) When I opened the package, it was a copy of Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. This book about Paul and Maureen, two orphaned children who save their money to buy a wild horse during Pony Penning Day, spoke to me like no other book ever had. I have never been a huge fan of books with animals as a focal point, but this story captured my heart.

That same year, my parents went on a trip and brought me back Daphne’s Book by Mary Downing Hahn. Hahn’s book about Daphne, the class “weirdo,” and Jessica, the main character, being partnered for a writing project, was the one of the single most transformative books in my reading life. In the book, Jessica is less than thrilled with being paired with Daphne; however, through their partnership, she realizes that Daphne is living with a dark secret, and the girls become unlikely friends. This book really fostered my love of reading AND writing, because as the girls worked on their writing project in the book, I found myself intrigued by the process and began to experiment with my own writing. Daphne’s Book was also the first book I had ever read that dealt with a true issue, and it touched me in a way that other books hadn’t.

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder is another all-time favorite and was discovered in the last months of fourth grade. The librarian at my small-town elementary school talked about Laura Ingalls Wilder and some of her books during our weekly library visit close to the end of the year. I looked at all of the books in the series, but the cover of Little House spoke to me. I loved the picture on the cover of Laura lovingly cradling her doll while she basked in the adoration of her family. I just had to know about that little girl on the cover and her family. I was engrossed in this book from the start and couldn’t wait to read about Laura’s daily chores, the way she played, and her family. There was something so appealing about the simplicity of her life and the hard work and dedication that went into maintaining it. I have already told my children my favorite scene from the book–the one where Pa blows up a pig bladder after butchering for Laura and her siblings to play with like a balloon. The wholesome story and the importance placed on family made me feel warm and snuggly like being wrapped in a warm hug which is why I checked it out of my elementary and middle school libraries numerous times during my younger years. I cannot wait to read this one with my daughter.

It is interesting to me that two of these books were written quite a long time ago, but are still some of my most beloved. When I taught English, I often recommended these books to students and was delighted (and gratified) that they enjoyed them too.

What are some books that were transformative for you? What are the books that really flipped the switch and made you a lifelong reader?

A Review HiLo: The Great Big Boom

Ok, Moms! If you are like me, I am constantly trying to find books for my kiddos. My son, who just turned 9, just became a true reader this year. His third grade teacher really pushed reading and especially CHOICE READING. This has been a game changer for him. Enter the HiLo series by Judd Winick.

Hi-Lo is a robot from a far away planet who comes to earth to help his friends and defeat his maker, whose goal is to get Hi-Lo back and take over the world. In Book #3, HiLo and The Great Big Boom, Hi-Lo and friends are attempting to help Gina who has been sucked into a portal. Hilarity and hijinks ensue.

My son LOVES these books. He has even created his own illustrations for HiLo, which I tweeted to Judd Winick. And guess what? He responded. I had one ecstatic third grader on my hands.

What I love about graphic novels is that they make content accessible to a broad audience. What I love about Hi-Lo is that the writing is smart, funny, and engaging. The illustrations complement the writing perfectly.

As a former English teacher, I am not the biggest fan of graphic novels; however, because my son is such a fan, I read HiLo: The Great Big Boom for him. And…I enjoyed it. I am so grateful for this medium that has made my son a reader, and I am grateful that Judd Winick has created a world and characters that my son loves and connects with. He is already begging me to pre-order HiLo #4: Waking the Monsters, which comes out in January.

Bottom Line: If you have reluctant readers, try HiLo. I give the series a 5/5.

A Review of Among the Ten Thousand Things

Among the Ten Thousand Things is a novel about the repercussions of infidelity on a marriage and on a family. Jack is a semi-successful artist who has a wife, Deb, and two children, Kat and Simon. He has had a string of affairs, but his most recent one prints and mails a myriad of illicit emails exchanged during the affair to Deb. However, young Kat is the one who receives the box and opens it. The fallout from this indiscretion is cataclysmic for the family.

This book was a pick for one of my book clubs. I read it, but I did not enjoy it. While I can appreciate the unique writing style and the choices Pierpont makes throughout the course of the narrative, there was no character that I was rooting for. I have found that for me to really get behind a book, I have to be able to root for one of the characters. There was no one to root for here. In addition, I did not find the book particularly character driven or plot driven. The novel is filled with selfish characters, especially Jack and Deb. They both seemed completely out of tune with their children and the misery they cause them. Really. As much as I hate to say it, I have not read a book in quite some time that I have enjoyed less than this one.

The one redeeming quality for this book is that it did provide for interesting and surprising discussion at book club. It was fascinating to see the different perspectives of book club members as we discussed Jack and Deb and their relationship. There was much more gray area among our book club members than I thought there would be, which made for an interesting and fruitful discussion.

Bottom Line: Skip it. I give it 2/5.

A Review of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

Oh, how I want to work at the Bright Ideas Bookstore! I saw this book recommended by one of the bookish bloggers I follow on Instagram, @topshelftext, and I loved the cover. Also, I just loved the name of the book. Throw in the review I read, and this book was a must read for me. Luckily, my library had it, and I was number one in line, so I was able to get it pretty quickly. Whew! I loathe waiting on a book I am anxious to read. (Plus, I am *trying* (wink, wink) not to buy books for a little while, but it is so hard.)

Anyhoo…back to this book…

The protagonist in this story, Lydia, a bookseller at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, has a mysterious past. When Joey, one of the intriguing Bookfrogs who frequents the bookstore, dies, it is up to Lydia to piece together what has happened and why.

I don’t want to give much more of a plot summary, because you just have to read it. The less you know going in, the better.

I loved this book. It is a twisty mystery, and it is plot driven; however, unlike a lot of suspense books I read, this book has well-developed characters, a colorful setting, and a lot more literary merit than I usually find in this genre. This is not to say it is not a page-turner, because it is. This book combines everything I love in a book–characters who have depth and are worth rooting for, an interesting backdrop for the story, and an immersive plot that kept me guessing. The only thing I can say that is at all negative, is that I was left wanting to know more about the Bookfrogs, the group of social misfits who find solace and camaraderie in the bookstore. (Don’t worry-you will learn a little more about the Bookfrogs in the first few chapters of the book.)

Bottom Line: Read it! I give it a 5/5.

Great Middle Grade Books That Have Mass Appeal

I taught in a middle school for 7 years. Middle Schoolers are tricky, because they are ready for heavier content than they were reading in elementary school, but not mature enough to handle the content of some Young Adult fare. YA can be challenging to navigate in the middle grades because some kids are fine with any book thrown at them, while others may need choices vetted for uncomfortable material.

The six books mentioned above have mass appeal and really resonate with middle school kids. ¬†All of these books have protagonists worthy of rooting for and real life situations that kids can relate to in different ways. In addition, these books have some “meat” to them and provide a great opportunity for in-depth discussion.

Questions on these books? Let me know in the comments! Have you read or taught these books? Leave a comment!