Summer Reading for Teens 2013

It’s Book Bucket time again!

My daughter is just finishing up her homeschooling projects, so I haven’t yet presented her summer book bucket. Meanwhile, my Writing Workshop students have asked for summer reading recommendations.  So here you are:

Wonder

by R. J. Palacio

Knoph

Wonder

I fell in love with this book.  I listened to the audio version which was fantastic.  This story has heart, humor, and wit. It is the kind of book you want to talk to someone about after reading.  The story is told in multiple perspectives–from the main character, August, a fifth grader, his classmates, and  his sister in tenth grade.  So there is a wide range of interest here. Auggie has struggled all his life with a facial deformity which prevented him from attending school.  When he begins Beecher Prep, he hopes to be treated like a normal kid and to make friends. The story deals with friendship, bullying, empathy, teachers, and how a family copes with adversity and illness.  The author called her debut book, “a mediation in kindness”. I’d recommend it for both girl and boys ages 10-14, but adults will love it, too.  Wonder has been on many top ten lists this year. Don’t miss it.

Summer and Bird

by Katherine Catmull

Dutton 2012

summer and bird

A beautifully written fairy-tale about two sisters, Summer and Bird, who awake one morning to find their parents missing. They embark on a mysterious quest through a forest to find them.  The girls are then pulled into a fantastical bird world called Down, where birds speak and connect with humans.  The sisters alternate chapters in telling the story.  This is a great book for girls who enjoy fantasy, nature, and relationship stories. It has emotional intensity and dangerous situations. Ages 12 and up.

The Agency, Book 1

 Y.S. Lee

Candlewick Press, 2011

the agency

It is the 1850‘s London and twelve-year-old Mary Quinn is sentenced to hang for stealing. In the nick of time, she is secretly rescued by a member of the covert spy group called The Agency.  Working under the guise of Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls, the all female agency trains young females to be spies. Mary’s first assignment is to disguise herself as a lady’s companion and infiltrate a rich merachant’s home in order to uncover the mystery of some disappearing cargo ships. This is a great book for more sophisticated readers who enjoy historical fiction with romance and suspense. The lush details will transport you back to Victorian-era London.  Recommended for ages 12-18.

Code Name Verity

by Elizabeth Wein

Hyperian 2012

Code name verity

This Printz Honor book has made a number of top ten lists. It will keep you hooked to the very end. After surviving a plane crash, “Verity”, a young female spy, is captured in  Nazi-occupied France. In exchange for a lesser form a torture and a stay of execution, Verity agrees to write her confessions about her espionage work. We learn the story of how she crossed paths with Maddie, the young pilot of the plane and why Verity abandoned her after the crash. Will trading secrets with the enemy save Verity’s life? This multi-layered adventure story is quite a grown-up one, so I recommend it for 14 to adult.

Close to Famous

by Joan Baur

Viking 2011

almost famous

Twelve-year-old Foster dreams of growing up to become a celebrity chef despite her reading disability. Set in a rural town of West Virginia, where Foster and her mother move to escape an abusive boyfriend, the story is full of odd and memorable characters. You’ll fall in love with Foster, the narrator, with her big heart and pillowcase full of secrets. Can the quirky townsfolk of tiny Culpepper help Foster realize her delicious dreams?  Ages 10 and up.

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu

by Wendy Wan-Lon Shang

Scholastic 2011

great wall of lucy wu

Lucy Wu is a sixth-grade girl with a strong will and great ambition. This girl has plans for her future which include becoming a basketball player  and an interior decorator. Alas, everything seems to get in the way, from having to share her room with Yi Po, her grandmother’s sister, to dealing with the school bully. Then there is the dreaded Chinese school her parents force her to attend. Lucy will make you laugh as she navigates her bi-cultural life with flair. Ages 9-12.

Legend

By Marie Lu

Putnam, 2011

legend What would a summer reading list be with out a dystopian thriller? Seems like some young readers can’t get enough.  If that’s the case, Legend, first in a trilogy set in futuristic Los Angeles, should satisfy.  It’s a roller coaster ride that doesn’t stop. Though predictable and familiar at many points, it has emotion and compelling characters. The story alternates between fifteen-year-old June, a prodigy from the wealthy district, and fifteen-year-old Day, a wanted criminal born into the slums. This highly-visual book seems destined for the big screen. For boys and girls ages 12 and up.

Has your child you enjoyed any of these titles? What are you reading this summer?  

A Great Teacher Gift

Looking for a last-minute gift for that special teacher? A gift that she/he probably doesn’t already have?

I recommend the beautiful picture book , Dream: A Tale of Wonder, Wisdom & Wishes by Susan V. Bosak.  Published in 2004, this gem has received numerous awards.  The book poetically explores hopes and dreamsthroughout the arc of one’s lifetime.

Dreams cover

The story is multi-layered and can be appreciated by young children and older teens as well.  Aspiring artists will appreciate the full-color illustrations by 15 top world illustrators.  Each page has an inspirational quote and a hidden star for the reader to find.

The narrator not only encourages young people to dream but to to action: “You need the Believe of childhood, the Do of youth, and the Think of experience.”

As a teacher, this is just the kind of gift book I’d love to receive.  It works for multi-age groups and can be used in a variety of ways in the classroom. Dream was published as a part of the Legacy Project’s LifeDreams program. The website offers terrific ideas for literacy and cross-curricular activities.

I discovered  Dream a few years ago when I began searching for projects to inspire kids to set goals and imagine their future. Now I use the book as part of my writing workshops and presentations. At my latest educational workshop: Raising Girls to Dream Big, a young couple showed up with their newborn daughter. I was thrilled to have these first-time parents in attendance.  I congratulated them for getting an early start on raising a child with hopes and dreams.

So now I’ve adding Dreams to my list of meaningful baby gifts, as well as teacher gifts.

Happy Holidays!

The Muggles took Manhattan and I stayed home.

Last Tuesday, Oct. 16th, J.K. Rowling made her only public appearance in the US,  and I missed it.

Ms. Rowling was interviewed by writer Anne Patchett at Lincoln Center in NYC, and then spoke, read, and signed her new book,  A Casual Vacancy. Somehow, I had missed the initial announcement in September when tickets went on sale, so I didn’t find out about Ms. Rowling’s appearance until October 8th while reading Dan Blank’s blog. Dan was running a contest to give away 2 tickets to writers who have been inspired by Rowling’s work.(Who hasn’t?)  I felt a few seconds of excitement at the prospect of winning the tickets.

Did I even enter? No.

Reason? Door to door it would take me about 6 hours to get there by train. (I certainly didn’t want to drive by myself from Boston to NYC.) That would mean missing work Tuesday morning.  Then, I’d have to stay overnight. Where would I stay? A hotel would be way too expensive.Then I’d miss work Wednesday morning, I might not get back in time for Audrey’s dance rehearsal…. You get the picture.

My pragmatism overshadowed the chance for a once-in-a-life opportunity.

This wasn’t the first time I had missed an opportunity to meet J.K. Rowling. In 1999, when my oldest daughter was 8, a friend of mine called saying, “The author of that Harry Potter book your daughter liked so much is at the Barnes and Nobles right now signing books!”

This was way before J.K. Rowling’s mega-author status.  Emily was jumping up and down.  “Can we go, Mom?”

I called the book store to check and was told, yes, indeed, Ms. Rowling was signing. There was a line out the door! They estimated the wait at one hour.  I told Emily that by the time we got there, the wait might be two hours, and her little sister wouldn’t be able to wait in line, and who knows, we might not get in anyway.

So we didn’t go, and I attended to whatever other pressing matter I had at the time.

My daughter didn’t get her book  signed or have a photo taken her new favorit author, who would go on to write 6 more HP books.

And if you think my daughter has forgotten, think again. She still has her tattered , unsigned copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  Emily (a.k.a. Leah E. Caras) and I amusingly refer to this incident as an example of short-term thinking. Not seeing ‘the forest through the trees’.

And, Mom’s lack of spontaneity.

Once upon a time, I was a heck of a lot more adventurous. That was BC–before children, when being a risk-taker seemed more suitable. But spontaneity?   I don’t like unpredictable situations. Ditto for big changes. I like order.  I am never late. I have always been a thoughtful decision- maker and a planner.

Had I been given adequate prior notice for both these J.K. Rowling events, I would have made the necessary arrangements to attend. Hey, with my strategic planning skills, I’d have been first in line!

When I heard the coverage of the latest event on NPR, I felt like the kid left out of the big party.  Over 2000 adults showed up for Rowling’s book debut.  One woman traveled from Paris!  Others came from Florida, Ohio, Arkansas. And I was sweating the a 4-5 hour train ride?  I thought about how excited my kids–all huge HP fans– would have been for me. ( Not to mention my students and blog readers.)

I consoled myself by saying I probably wouldn’t have won the tickets, anyway…

But this incident got me thinking about other opportunities I have passed up due to lack of spontaneity–example: a free trip to Israel (bad-timing).  Most of them, I can honestly say, I regret not taking. In retrospect, I can see how I might have been able to make the nitty-gritty details work.

I also remember a few times, when pushed, I jumped. Case in point: appearing on the Lifetime TV show, The Balance Act.  My daughter, 19 at the time, landed an interview about her publishing business, Yaldah Media, Inc.  The producer wanted me to join her. I can’t even remember what reasons I gave EmilyLeah for not wanting to do it. (Finding coverage for my CEO Mom job?  Flying to Florida by myself?)

“Are you crazy, Mom? she said over the phone. “You are going to pass up a chance to promote your book on national TV?”

The experience turned out to be a fun mother/daughter trip. I learned about television production and sold a lot of books!

Perk: I got to meet fitness guru Denise Austin while we were having our make-up done. And, since my sister and parents live in Florida, I got a quick visit with them.

So my friends, I am publicly announcing that, from here on, I will strive to seize the moment and grab an opportunity when it comes my way. I may need a little coaching to get there, but, as they say in recovery, the first step is admitting you have a problem.  I hope to report on my progress in future blogs.

Addendum:  I am happy to tell you that I actually did get a chance to see J.K. Rowling in person. In 2008, Ms. Rowling was the Harvard University commencement speaker. Being an alumna, I received much advanced notice of the event, as well as two complimentary tickets. I’ll never forget my ten-year-old daughter’s face as her beloved author took the podium and the crowd cheered.

It was pure magic.

Are you a spontaneous person?  How do you know whether to say ‘yes‘ when an opportunity presents itself?  

Celebrating Summer’s Swan Song


Sometime back when my kids were all in preschool/elementary school, I started the tradition of giving them each a book bucket on the last day of school.  This was simply a beach bucket with their name on it.  Tucked inside were paperbacks for summer reading.  I also included: puzzle books, comics, magazines, stickers, journals, bookmarks, pens, stationary, and the summer reading club sheet from our library and B&N. I tied a balloon to each bucket and then surprised the kids when they came home from school.

With celebratory music playing in the background, I’d congratulate them on a successful school year. Then we’d ring in summer vacation.

The kids loved this and it became a yearly ritual until graduation from high school. (Two down, one to go.) As the kids got older, I tailored the books to their interests. (This summer my daughter’s book bucket included a much coveted Hunger Games Movie guide.) Anticipation for the buckets began around June 1st.  The kids loved comparing their book bucket photos from year-to-year.

Thankfully, all three of my children enjoy books and creative writing.  Recently, I had the unanticipated pleasure of bringing my first grandchild her book bucket of baby books. I hope her mom will continue the tradition.

The book bucket idea came naturally to me as a reading teacher, book lover, writer,  and later, homeschooling mom.  But there is another reason: my love of summer.  Of course, no matter what I do to try to make the summer stretch out or to slow down, it always seems to pass in a blip.

When my fourteen-year-old daughter came down for breakfast yesterday, she sleepily said: “Mom? Is it really September 1st today?”

I gave her a hug.

“But I still haven’t finished my book bucket!”

Like me, she is definitely sad to see summer go.

As I write this post on the last official weekend of the summer season, it occurred to me that maybe we need an End of Summer ritual–a way of letting go and embracing the fall.  I’m not sure I could actually call it a “celebration”, like  at the beginning of summer, but I need some way to envision the upcoming school year without getting stuck in a snow scene.

So for starters, I decided to make a Looking Forward list that my daughter and I could write together, then display in our homeschool room.  This list would include events, happenings, and trips that we are looking forward to in the fall, winter, and spring.  We could add to the list as new items come our way.  Everyone needs something to look forward to, right?

Here’s what I came up with so far:

*Planning our mom/daughter trip to Washington, D.C

*Going to Albany to play with baby Chaya (her niece/my grand daughter)

*Visiting Sam at college

*Hot cocoa mornings  (Not sure about this one)

*Cousin Akiva’s bar mitzvah

So maybe the Looking Forward list, along with a final swim in our town lake, will become the ritual for celebrating summer’s swan song.

How do you say good-bye to summer? (Or hello to fall?)