Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fantastic Summer Reads for Young Readers

Somewhere out there is that one book that inspires a young mind to become a reader.

I didn't really start reading until I was in fourth grade.  The summer I turned nine my family moved to a new town to live with family for awhile and I had to start a new school, adjust to a new home and try to make new friends.  The fact that my younger brother and I were two of only four new kids in the entire school was an added bonus to the already challenging time.  Already much taller than the other kids and painfully self conscious and shy, I turned to books to help make the lonely days a little easier.

The first books I remember reading and loving was The Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin.  Between the pages I found a group of uniquely different girls that loved kids, had adventures and were always there for their best friends.  I devoured them.

While I eventually grew older than Kristy, Claudia and the gang, I developed a fondness for loosing myself in a good story after a long day of school and homework.  A habit was born and since I fourth grade hardly a day has gone by that I haven't read a few chapters pages of a book.

Over the weekend I started thinking about what to get my nephew for his eighth birthday.  Legos came to mind.  As did a video game.  Or a water gun.  Or even a gift card to buy an app or two for his tablet.

But then it came to me:  a book.  A truly great chapter book that will inspire him to share one of my greatest passions...reading.  It's actually a really daunting task, trying to think of a book an active 8-year-old would like when there are so many other ways to spend his time an energy.  I did some research online and found some great lists, such as this one from NPR, but when it comes down to it, I want to give him a book that I loved as a kid in the hopes that if he doesn't love it this summer, he'll pick it up in a few years and discover something magical.  So I present to you:

[1]  Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
The unwanted burden of his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, young Harry resigns himself to his cousins castoffs, daily bullying and the inevitability of a ho-hum life.  As his eleventh birthday nears Harry begins to notice strange things happening.  An awful haircut grows out overnight, a hideous sweater shrinks until he can no longer wear it and he has an actual conversation with a snake!  Then one day an owl delivers an old fashioned envelope addressed to Harry.  From that moment on, Harry's life turns into an amazing adventure in which he learns magic, finds the true meaning of family and friendship and sets out to save the wizarding world.  The Potter series isn't afraid to help kids explore fear, friendship, loss and the meaning between good and evil.

[2]  The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
Orphaned Harry Crewe travels to the Homeland's remote desert outpost of Daria to live with her brother Richard. Shortly after her arrival, Corlath, King of the desert people arrives at the fort to warn the Homelanders of a terrible threat.  The Homelanders ignore Corlath's warning and he leaves in anger.  Later that evening,
seemingly out of the blue Corlath returns to the fort and kidnaps Harry.  What at first seems like a terrifying and confusing event turns into a series of self discoveries that helps Harry find her purpose in life and strength in herself.  The Blue Sword is an easy to read story with a strong female lead that shows that girls can do whatever they set their mind to, even if everyone else is telling them they can't.

[3]  The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Laura lives with her Pa, Ma, Mary, and her beloved dog Jack on the frontier of America in the mid 1800s.  Little House in the Big Woods describes what life was like for five-year-old Laura and the Ingalls family as they traded labor with friends and family deep in the woods of Wisconsin in order to  prepare for the upcoming winter months.  Told in an engagingly endearing way, no topic is taboo as Laura recalls what it was like to help slaughter pigs for meat, farm the land for daily food and the ups and downs of living in a one room log cabin far from neighbors and family.  This series gives a fascinating look at what life was like 150 years ago, long before indoor pluming and grocery stores.

[4]  Matilda by Roald Dahl
Young Matilda Wormwood is extraordinary in a very ordinary family.  An avid reader and intelligent beyond her years, Matilda is a bit of a prankster who uses her amazing sense of concentration to play pranks on people she feels deserve to learn a lesson---mainly her dishonest parents and cruel teachers.  One day Matilda connects with a young teacher who recognizes Matilda's brightness.  Miss Honey mentors Matilda's unique mind and opens her up to a whole new world of books and learning.  Full of mischief and magic and discovery, Matilda is a fun read for kids and parents alike.

[5]  The Giver by Lois Lowry
Jonas lives in a Utopian society that has elected for "sameness" in order to eradicate fear, anger, hunger and war.  Each family is created for compatibility, citizens are assigned jobs that are suited for their skills, and all needs are met equally.  During their twelfth year, each young person is assigned to the job he or she will have for the rest of their lives as an adult. During the assignment ceremony, Jonas is assigned to become the next Receiver of Memory.  As he learns what it means to receive the memories the public lost in their quest for sameness, Jonas learns the depth of what humanity has given up.  Will he be able to live within society now that he knows what is missing?

While these five books made the largest impression on me in my youth, I feel like there are a few others that deserve honorable mentions:

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