Teens and Adults, These Two are for You!

Most of what I've read and reviewed so far for Cybils nonfiction this year has been picture books. But now I'll share with you a couple of great books that weigh in at 200-300 pages. 

Fly Like a Girl: One Woman's Dramatic Fight in Afghanistan and on the Home Front by Mary Jennings Hegar

This is the young readers edition of Mary Jenning Hegar's autobiography, Shoot Like a Girl. In Fly Like a Girl, MJ shares her journey to becoming a Combat Search and Rescue Pilot, her experiences (good and bad), and some of her life after service. 

I found this book chock full of amazing stories. The writing is accessible and visceral -- I felt I was there with MJ. The way Hegar balances the description of events with her own feelings about them is really well done. I can't really see myself putting this into the hands of someone younger than high school age, because of the book's content. Gender discrimination is a big theme, of course, and Hegar touches on some of the assault she faced. I felt this was done well. That is to say, her experiences stayed on my mind for a while, but didn't give me nightmares. Hegar also did 3 tours in Afghanistan, and talks about her experiences with war. It was fascinating to hear not only about the exciting missions, but also about the typical day. Swearing is starred out in Fly Like a Girl -- but just the middle two letters of your average four letter word. So, this book is not going to teach any kids how to spell swears, but those who know them already will surely experience swearing as part of the reading. I really liked this book, and I won't soon forget it. 

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi & Jason Reynolds

Stamped is also an adapted book, the cover proclaims it "A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped From the Beginning."  I liked that this one was not called a "young readers edition" because I feel it would be great for adults, too. I'd like to get a copy of Stamped From the Beginning and compare the two books. 

Anyway, Stamped was so educational for me. I really appreciated how it quickly dove in and defined racism and antiracism. I have heard plenty about personal racism vs. institutional racism recently, but I haven't heard nearly as much about segregationist vs. assimilationist racism. (I did learn some about segregation, assimilation, and integration in college, for my TESOL minor.) After defining the terms, the book covers history and explains how racism began and continues. It is a fascinating book. 

I was annoyed a little bit by the tone and word choice of the book, sometimes. For instance, I wasn't wild about how the book started off saying "this is not a history book" but then backtracked and, what do you know, it is a history book. I think the tone is meant to be hip and accessible. It probably is. On the whole I found the book very good. I'm guessing, though, that Jason Reynolds was writing with black teens in mind, not white women. It wasn't usually a problem for me, but it did bother me when I felt like it was trying to make me feel a certain way, instead of presenting me with truths and letting me feel.

Stamped does a really good job of showing how complex and multifaceted Black Americans are. They're not a monolith. I'm convinced now that while a lot of Black people esteem famous Black Americans like Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and W. E. B Du Bois, some have mixed feelings about them and what they did. Just because I know one Black person and know how they feel about something doesn't mean I know how Black people feel about it. I hope I knew that already, but now I know it even more. 

I recommend this book. I feel like I have eyes that can see racism just a little bit better than before. I've noticed it and called it out in a few places that I wouldn't have, otherwise. And I'm curious to get my hands on Stamped From the Beginning to see if I find it even more educational.


Books for a 3 year old boy

 My friend Jen asked me to recommend some books for a 3 year old boy. Easy! I have a 3 year old boy at home right now. 

Sam loves reading, and we read to him every night as part of his bedtime routine. The books that he has "on repeat" right now are the Stanley books by Williambee. We own Stanley's Garage and Stanley the Builder. Sam has told us that he wants to read "dat one!" pointing to Stanley's Diner on the back cover of the other books. 

Sam also loves books by Leslie Patricelli. My personal favorite of these is Yummy Yucky, which I reviewed here. But I also really like Quiet Loud, Tubby, Higher Higher!, and Big Kid Bed

Because Sam has good reading stamina, we've been reading The Princess in Black series together lately. They're early chapter books with lots of illustrations and action. Would I read them with every 3 year old? No. But Sam's a big fan. 

If your three-year old is less likely to sit still, I recommend a lift-the flap book, or a book that's interactive in some way. Sam's recent favorite of these is Stir Crack Whisk Bake: A Little Book About Little Cakes. Sam has checked this one out of the library multiple times, and was very sad when we turned it in last week.


We also have a large and well-loved collection of books by Karen Katz. I recommend Vroom, Vroom, Trucks! for its inclusion of both animals AND construction trucks. We like the "big reveal" at the end and flipping back in the book to find each animal and truck that's in the final spread. 

Speaking of trucks, we are both fans of The Little Blue Truck, a rhyming book (really well done poem!) about a truck, animals, and friendship. We've checked out the Springtime sequels and the Christmas sequel from the library and the lights on the Christmas one are impressive. But, I still like the first one the best. 

Enjoy reading with that 3 year old, Jen!

p.s. What do you guys think of the amazon widget links I did this time? I think the yellow is a little overwhelming, but I like that the price shows up (and will update automatically). Tell me your feelings. 

2 Commendable New Biographies in Poetry

 In my reading for the 2020 Cybils Awards for Non-fiction, I've read a lot of biographies so far. These two stand out for being written well written in poetry.

Yusra Swims

I think this may be one of the most moving picture book bios I've read this year. It tells the story of Yusra Mardini who was training to swim in the Olympics when war forced her to flee her country. The spare text with a driving, repetitive rhythm does a great job of moving the story forward quickly. The predictable rhyme scheme is a great foil to the unpredictability of the story. You could read the book in a minute or two!

But the pictures and the word choice keep you on each page longer, engaging your brain to think about what this story means. And they've brought me back, several times. This is a book I can see working well for many, many ages. It could seamlessly fit in a high school classroom. With discussion, it could work for the very young. A short page of backmatter, "About Yusra Mardini" adds some interesting details to the story. This isn't a book I'll soon forget. 

The Superlative A. Lincoln

This book was a lot of fun. Eighteen poems describe the life and work of Abraham Lincoln, each accompanied by an illustration and some explanation. Each poem has a superlative title: Best Lumberjack, Greatest Speech, Most Likely to Tinker, etc. I found myself discussing this book with my family at the dinner table and impressing all with my little-known facts about President Lincoln. The poetry is colloquial, even conversational, and very accessible. I could see third and fourth graders enjoying this book on their own. 

7 New Picture Book Biographies

Here's another bunch of new nonfiction books I've been reading for the Cybils Award this year!  

Fred's Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers by Laura Renauld

This book would be a good fit for an elementary school audience that is familiar with Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. The book talks about Fred Rogers life growing up, his journey into and work with television, and his legacy. Throughout the book, words that name feelings and emotions are italicized.  As far as backmatter goes, just an author's note comes along with this one, no photos of Fred Rogers or timeline of his life. It's a book about feelings that also happens to be about Mr. Rogers, rather than the other way around. The art and color in the book do a good job of complimenting the text and evoking mood. 

Having watched the recent Mr Rogers documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor, I didn't learn anything particularly new about his life from this book. Still, if I were teaching about feelings and emotions, this would be one to reach for. 

Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice by Nikki Grimes

This picture book biography of Senator Harris has a side story: A narrative about a first-grade girl, Eve, who is annoyed with a classmate who said "girls can't be president." She tells her mom about the situation and her mom tells her about how Kamala Harris hopes to be president someday. As the biography tells about Kamala Harris's upbringing and how she got into politics, Eve and her momma speak in italics at the bottom of some pages. The book preaches hard work and perseverance and ends the biography portion with "Kamala Harris is still writing her American story." A little bit of humor from Eve and her mom close it out. A timeline and sources can be found in the backmatter, and the timeline adds salient details that didn't fit in the text. 

I have read Grace for President innumerable times to my daughter, and this book reminded me of that one. They make a nice pair. If you're looking for insight into the background and motivations of Kamala Harris, this seems like a good place to start. 

Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, the First Paleontologist by Linda Skeers

Having never heard of her before, I found it fascinating to learn about Mary Anning and her discoveries near her home. We learn about Mary from her childhood to her adulthood, and the book touches on the discrimination she experienced because she was a woman in the early 1800s. The amount and quality of fossils that she discovered, and the depth of her curiosity and knowledge were impressive.  The book was written well for an elementary audience and the backmatter added to the understanding for older readers. Great timeline, too. This was one I caught my kids reading on their own.

Lizzie Demands a Seat!: Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights by Beth Anderson

The book details an incident of racism when Elizabeth Jennings was refused a seat on a streetcar in New York City in 1854. It then takes us through the aftermath of that incident in her community, to the court where her case was heard, and to her community and the country after the verdict.  

This book was interesting. I know of Rosa Parks, and I was blown away by Claudette Colvin a few years back, but Elizabeth Jennings' name was new to me. Her story is compelling and the book adds to the overall story of civil rights. I didn't much care for the illustrations, done in watercolor, but I loved the author's note (which included some photographs and lots of extra facts). 

Feed Your Mind: A Story of August Wilson by Jen Bryant

I didn't know who August Wilson was, and this book took a little while to get around to telling us what August Wilson did, so that was an interesting experience. The washing machine story at the beginning of the book is an excellent example of the kinds of discrimination that make life difficult for People of Color. Over all, the book was very interesting, and the way August Wilson educated himself in libraries is inspiring.

HIghly organized and complete with extensive backmatter (author's note, detailed timeline, notes from each page, bibliography and more) this book leaves you with no doubt that the author knew her stuff. Great for upper elementary ages and older. 


Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit by Linda Elovitz Marshall

This was the one my librarian knew. "I love the illustrations!" she said. It was an awe-inspiring story, explaining how Beatrix Potter overcame societal expectations to write and publish, and was a champion of conservation. Potter is presented in a wholly positive light here, and her struggles as a woman in earlier times are detailed, too. I wasn't not aware of the massive impact she had on conservation in English countryside, so I learned something. I'd recommend this to those who love Peter Rabbit and for general young audiences.

Ruth Objects: The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Doreen Rappaport

Another Feminist addition to this collection! This one was fascinating especially considering a) it's the first bio of RBG I've read b) she so recently passed away and c) she consulted on the book. It touched a lot on the work she did to help people of both genders by ensuring that they were treated equally by the law. 
This one was very well illustrated, and I liked the design element of having quotes by Ginsburg in a larger, bolder font. Reading so many of her own words helped me feel like I knew her better. It had extensive backmatter, in case the main text piques your interest. I'd recommend this for upper elementary ages and older. 

5 New, High-Quality Picture Books to Help You Teach

My Cybils reading has begun! Allow me to share with you 5 high quality nonfiction picture books published in the last 12 months. All of these are suitable for use in the classroom (or home classroom) and I'm happy to tell you why.

The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America's Presidents by Kate Messner & Adam Rex

When I brought home a huge stack of new non-fiction, this was the first book I saw any of my kids reading. It was Levi (age 10), and he was reading it on the floor in the middle of the walkway. He couldn't even make it to the nearby chair. The book didn't even make it to the nearby shelf. So, I chalked a point up for kid appeal on this one. (The two criteria on which Cybils books are evaluated are kid appeal and literary merit). Plus, with a title like "The Next President," and such gorgeous cover design, and less than a month until the next presidential election . . . I mean who could resist? 

This book was great. It takes a unique look at past presidents, offering info about all the presidents who were alive in a given year and what they were up to. Like a big fascinating timeline in full color, that you don't have to walk around to read, this book was informative and fresh. Which future presidents were alive on the day that George Washington took office? And what were they up to? The books conversational tone also drew me in. 

Adam Rex's realistic illustrations make it easy to recognize those presidents whose faces are familiar. The sense of motion and action he conveys is phenomenal. And occasionally the timeline is interrupted for a "snapshot" of a president at some  point in their life before their presidency. The book concludes with a though provoking paragraph about all the future presidents of the United States of America that are likely alive today. The Next President also has substantial backmatter, including a cool map that shows where past presidents have been born, lays out the requirements for those who want to hold the office of the president, and suggests further reading.

I can see this book being a great fit for ages 7 and up. Levi's in 5th grade right now and it made good independent reading for him. I could see it working as low as 2nd grade, with an adult reading it and aiding comprehension. How high could you go? The sky is the limit on this one. I think middle grades, high schoolers and adults would all find it interesting. I did! 

Nesting by Henry Cole

This is the book that Jubilee cracked open first. Illustrated in black micron pen with a little bit of blue acrylic wash now and then, the exquisitely detailed drawings really make this book stand out. The text is uncomplicated, and suitable for reading aloud to all ages. Nesting tells the story of a family of robins over the course of one year. A lone robin calls a mate. She builds a nest, lays eggs, and together they feed the chicks and defend them from danger. They teach them to fly, and the whole family prepares for winter. 

I particularly loved the detail that Cole added to the story, by way of the author's note. It answered several of the questions I had, and if I were teaching a third grade class I wouldn't hesitate to completely incorporate the author's note into my reading. If I were teaching an art class, I'm sure I could talk about composition and focus. These drawings are photorealistic, and I doubt a photo could be better. You could spend years trying to get some of these shots, and here they are: composed in the mind and rendered perfectly. If I were teaching an "Up in the Sky" Kindermusik class (ahem, which I have, recently) I would love to use this book as a read aloud for the preschoolers and parents. 

On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring by Buffy Silverman

Speaking of Kindermusik, On a Snow-Melting Day struck me as a perfect read aloud for a unit that talks about weather. The rhyme and rhythm of this book, combined with big, bold photo illustrations just seems like it would be a real winner with the preschool crowd. I can see it going over very well with elementary school children, too. Can't wait to read this one to Sam (age 3). 

On a Snow Melting Day uses rhyming couplets of just two words each to tell about all the things you might see on an early spring day: "Icicles drip. Chickadees Sip." All of the photos and words point to nature signs until the very end when we read "Blackbirds sing. Kids swing. Welcome, spring!" This book would be a nice introduction to onomatopoeia, with lines like "On a plink-plonking, marsh-mucking, duck-dabbling day..."

I confess I was a little bit disappointed that the one photo that shows a child's face in the book is a photo of a white male. Sigh. Especially since, judging by the photo credits in the backmatter, the photos were all selected from photo publishing resources online. It's a great picture of a dad pushing his son on the swing. But, I think it would not have been difficult to find a great picture of a child of color. Who can say? All I know is that I was a little bit disappointed there. 

The backmatter in this book is robust. We get a glossary, further reading suggestions, and a two-page spread that gives a paragraph of details about each couplet shared in the main body of the book. I've seen nonfiction books do this both ways -- some put the paragraph directly in the main body, others save it for the backmatter. The books that leave details for the backmatter, like this one, have a lot of flexibility and make for good read-alouds. Plus then as an adult reading to a child, I get to model how reading nonfiction texts is the same (read straight through) and different (flip back and forth to revisit the picture and read the paragraph that goes with it). For that reason, this book would be a good introduction to nonfiction for a child who enjoys fiction picture books.

Numenia and the Hurricane: Inspired by a True Migration Story by Fiona Halliday

This gorgeously illustrated poem tells the story of a young whimbrel (a migrating bird) who gets separated from and eventually reunited with her group. 

I wasn't already familiar with the whimbrel when I started this book, and my main complaint about this one is that I didn't know what kind of bird I was following until I read the backmatter. We follow our bird from the time she's a fluffy chick, and I know that birds' appearance changes significantly as they mature. It was obvious that Numenia had changed, but I wasn't sure if she was fully grown. So, when her migration is briefly led by a goose, I was like "oh, is she a young goose, then?" No.  

The poem is beautifully written, and the author chose to sacrifice some things (like incorporating the words whimbrel, hurricane, and Numenia) for the sake of flow. The poem does flow beautifully and tell a moving story of growth, disaster, suspense, and ultimate triumph. The chorus of "curlee, curlee, curloo," meant to evoke the call of the whimbrel, is a nice element of repetition.

The book is beautifully illustrated, as well. So much texture! Digital and traditional mixed media bring the story to life. And, the use of color masterfully matches the mood of the poem. A red sunset at the climactic moment is highly effective in a book with lots of blues, greens and browns. The black of the city that Numenia gets lost in, the red of the wide eyes of a watching pidgeon family, and the yellow of the moon at her reunion are three other perfect touches. 

I'd recommend this one for elementary and older elementary audiences. The backmatter contains only the true story that the book is based on and a brief bibliography, so Numenia and the Hurricane would make a nice vocabulary or poetry study. It seamlessly incorporates words like askew, faltering, moor (and more!). It shows off personification of animals and elements, repetition, alliteration and assonance. 

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard & Oge Mora

Such an intriguing title! Such beautiful cut paper art! This book tells about Mary Walker who was born a slave, freed by the emancipation proclamation, raised a family and worked her whole life and who, at last, learned to read.

I won't spoil for you just how old Mary Walker was before she learned to read. That fact was the most astonishing one to me, followed closely by just how long Mary Walker lived. I loved seeing the photos that decorate the endpapers of the book, and I especially loved the last line: "You're never too old to learn."  

What I wished the book had more of was HOW Mary Walker learned to read. The pacing of the book is a bit off. The book spends a lot of time on her life before she learned to read (indeed most of her life was before she learned to read!) but, somehow, that slow delivery of the title's promise, combined with the fact that nearly every illustration portraying Mary before her first reading class is one of a sad or confused Mary, made a large part of the book very sobering and sad. Then, a quick bit about her learning to read! And some ending pages about Mary's new life as a reader. I'm sure Mary found fulfillment in reading -- I certainly do. But I take a issue with a couple of lines in the book.

1. "It was the year of Chattanooga's Great Flood. The story was in all the newspapers, but Mary could only study the pictures to understand what had happened." In the backmatter the author admits that she chose to "imagine other details to fill in the blanks" of Mary's largely unrecorded life. I imagine that an illiterate person could do quite a bit to understand a situation. Not only could Mary look at pictures, but she could talk to others, perhaps even witness the effects of the flood of the town she lived in. 

2. "Mary felt complete." I don't know if this is an accurate statement or not, since the author has admitted to imagining details. I found it particularly jarring that the author implied that Mary's sadness over past losses was all smoothed over by reading. 

The book spends only 2 of its 32 pages on the hard work that Mary put in to learning to read and write. (One paragraph of text, one gorgeous illustration.) The only mention of her teacher's name is in a caption of a photo on the endpapers. The other 30 pages tell us how completely terrible and hard Mary's life was before she learned to read, and then how many presents, parties and accolades she got and how complete she felt once she was literate. I would feel much more satisfied by a book that showed evidence that the author had an idea of what happened during that "year and more" Mary spent learning to read, evidence that she had interviewed those who taught Mary, or learned with her, or just those who knew Mary (and not just knew what presents she got). 

The author's note shares a few interesting details that would have made the book more rounded and less "reading is the only important thing" preachy. Apparently Mary sewed beautiful bonnets and made amazing cakes! She could have been shown smiling with some of those, in her early, hard days, even though she wasn't literate. I'm sure that learning throughout her life prepared her to learn when she was elderly. I guess I wish the message of the book had been "Learn all you can. Learning even when your opportunities are slim will benefit you and prepare you for when your opportunities expand" rather than "Reading and literacy are the path to completeness and celebrity." A main theme in the book is Mary's love of the Bible, and how Mary's Bible waited a long time for her to be able to read it. I don't think the message I got from the pacing of the book was the message the author meant to send. I think the author meant to send the message that, as stated on the last page, "You're never too old to learn." 

The illustrations were deeply moving. The story itself is amazing! The pacing was not quite right. Still, I might use this book in a class or keep it on a shelf for kids to check out. When I asked Jubilee (age 7) which of the books above she thought she would like best, just based on the cover, she picked The Oldest Student.  

Cybils this year!

I'm pleased to say that I have been selected as a first-round panelist for the Nonfiction category of the Cybils Awards this year! Nonfiction has been divided by age group in the past, and this year we will still have three winners (Elementary, Middle Grade, and Young Adult) but it's just one nonfiction panel reading ALLLLLL the books. I can't wait for the nominations to start rolling in. 

If you have a favorite book published for children or teens in the last year (Oct 2019-Oct 2020), please nominate! The Cybils Awards rely on the nominations of the public. 

If you'd like to check out some nonfiction titles I've loved in the past, here's a list. 

I'll be working with this great panel to select the best handful of nonfiction books in each age range. Then our shortlists will go on to a second panel of judges who will select the winner in each age group.  


5 Easy, Proven Ways You Can Get More Books at Home Right Now

Right now I've got all four of my kids learning from home. We've opted for remote learning through their usual schools. For my middle schooler, Benjamin, this means working independently to complete 2 assignments per week in each of his 7 classes. He logs on twice a week for a video chat with an eighth, advisory class. My elementary schoolers, Levi and Jubilee, are logging on for short lessons from their teachers 4-5 times a day, and doing some independent work in between. My preschooler, Sam, is enjoying a bag of books and craft supplies that the leader of our city's School Readiness initiative offers for pick up every month or so.  

We're spending a lot of time at home. So, how can we get more books at home right now?

1. Library holds- If your library is open at all, the librarians are just wishing and hoping for your patronage. Our library is open with limited hours and with restrictions (no restroom access, mandatory masks, traffic stickers on the floor) and our librarians are thrilled to see us when we come in. If coming in isn't an option for people, they're offering a curbside pickup. When I get to the library I call and they will bring my checked out books to my car. I highly recommend looking into your local library as an option. My library is keeping all books returned to them in quarantine - untouched for 3 days. They've also ceased charging any fines. Look into what your library is doing. 

I definitely use library holds to get more books. Every so often, maybe once a week, I log on to my library's catalog and put books on hold that my kids want. I look up the books we want in the catalog and click to place a hold. Whether the book is coming from my home library or from another library in the system, I know it's coming. Then, when I go to the library, I browse for whatever looks good. The librarians put a lot of work into making books look good, letting you see the book covers, etc. So I grab what sparks some interest, and then at the checkout desk, I pick up my holds. 

I definitely end up getting more books with the help of holds. Sometimes I go expressly for picking up holds, but often I visit the library to browse and find I have holds that have come in. Putting books on hold eliminates the effort of remembering what book it was we wanted, and the effort of finding the book on the shelf. 

And hey, here's a cool tool -- the catalog of library catalogs -- called WorldCat. Find out what libraries near you have any given book in their catalog. 

2. Book Subscriptions- I've looked into several book subscription boxes, but so far I've stuck with my first love, Bookroo. It's great. They send you two books, wrapped as gifts. A small paper comes with them to tell parents the titles and summaries of the books. For the chapter book box, the card notes anything a parent might want to watch for -- tense scenes, usually. 

I like that the books come as a surprise. I like that I don't have to choose whether or not I want this book or that book, it's just "set and forget." They're vetted books, and I've liked all of the ones we've received in the picture book and chapter book boxes. There have been a couple of board books that I felt meh about, but a couple that have become absolute staples in our house. So, I'm hot and cold about the board book box, and very warm and loving toward the picture book and chapter book boxes. I've written more about Bookroo, I like them well enough that I've become an affiliate. You can see my other posts about Bookroo here

I like that Bookroo is a small business started by three book-loving sisters-in-law. So relatable. Subscribing right now seems like a great way to enjoy some books and support a small business. We gifted my 2nd grader, Jubilee, a 3-month Chapter Book Box subscription for her birthday. 

3. Digital libraries- I've tried two digital libraries recently, Kindle Unlimited and Epic. 

Kindle Unlimited left me feeling meh. That may be because I wanted it for the kids mostly, and it wasn't until after my free month trial ended that my 7th grader won a free Kindle from the library summer reading program. I found it somewhat difficult to browse, and any title I searched for wasn't on it, but the Amazon page to buy it would come up. Using it felt more like browsing Amazon than visiting a digital library. Perhaps if you have a Kindle for your kids, it will suit your family better.

Epic is the digital library that the kids' schools signed up with when distance learning started last March. The kids found plenty to read on it, enough that I had to decide to what degree reading books on Epic counted as "screen time." Jubilee read a lot of Snoopy and Charlie Brown in the spring, and is currently reading the Phoebe and her Unicorn series. She was disappointed Epic didn't have the first Harry Potter book; our copy is missing at the moment. Levi has also found plenty to read for fun (Cat Ninja!) and completed reading assigned by his teacher on Epic as well. From my parent screen I can see that my kids have read over 100 hours and more than 150 books on Epic, already. My kids can only read during school hours, but parents can pay $10/month for unlimited access, and any parent can sign up for a free 30-day trial. Also, a subscription can be gifted. 

4. 4. 

4. Local bookstores- We've got Books-A-Million nearby; they're a chain bookstore and man am I glad they are around! If you've got a local bookstore, support it! Get their membership. Books-A-Million has a "millionaire's card" and at $25/year it gives me free shipping and 10% off everything, as well as access to some special sales. It hits the sweet spot for me because it's the closest to my house AND it's easy to order online AND it appeals to my frugal side with its sales and membership benefits.

 A little bit further away we've got a local independent book store, Bank Square Books. Talk about charming! The place is everything I want a bookstore to be: full of books, also cute stuff, knowledgeable staff, and places to sit. Well, I haven't been in 2020, so I can't say whether or not the places to sit have disappeared. But the thing I love about local independent bookstores is they're most likely to host awesome author events and bring authors and speakers to town and to the schools (and to virtual settings, too). In my experience, you'll end up paying sticker price (or close to it) for the books you buy at a non-chain bookstore, but when you do, you're sprinkling literacy benefits into the whole community.  

5. Online bookstores- 

I mean, when I say "easy and proven," even a local shopper like me has to admit that Amazon belongs on the list. The online bookstore that turned into an online "everything" store has made it SO easy to buy books. I regularly use Amazon for its detailed book information features. Reading levels, page counts, publication dates, all in one easy space! If you're on Amazon and you're ordering something anyway, you can run a quick search for the best deals. Type "children's books" or "YA books" in the search bar, then when the results come up, click the box on the left hand side for "Today's Deals." Then sort by Price: Low to High.  

BAM! Books-A-Million    

Books-A-Million also sells online, and they seem to have more variety in kids' books on sale (maybe because they stock physical stores). I shall make getting to their online bargain bin easy for you: First, go to the website. Then click on Bargain Books (it's a dropdown menu, but just click it, don't pay any attention to the dropping down. Also, don't be distracted by Sale. You want Bargain Books). Then scroll down to the third row and along the top of the row click the tiny link "Shop All Kids Books Starting at $3.97". Enjoy scrolling the deals! 

Happy reading! And hey, how does school look for you right now?

27 Books for a 12 Year Old Girl Who Reads Like Crazy

Last Christmas, my good friend Nancy called me up asking for my advice on a book subscription box for her granddaughter. This granddaughter is a precocious reader with an insatiable appetite for books

I told her that I love Bookroo, but their oldest box is targeted to ages 7-10. Nancy said that definitely wouldn't do. Her granddaughter had read and loved the whole Harry Potter series, The Lunar Chronicles, the Septimus Heap Books, I Will Always Write Back, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Making Bombs for Hitler, To Kill a Mockingbird, Little Women, and more. 

Nancy said she had looked into OwlCrate, but that her granddaughter didn't want any of the "stuff" just the books. Little did we know, Amazon had just launched it's Prime Book Box for Kids, including a 9-12 age bracket. So, after we failed to find anything suitable I said "Hey, how about I send you a big list of books I think she'd like, and you can pick a couple each month and send them to her?" Everyone loved the idea, and Nancy dubbed it "Grandma's Book of the Month Club, curated by Alysa Stewart!"

Anyway, I thought the rest of you might like to peek at the list I put together. 

27 Books for a 12 Year Old Girl reading at a high level

I have put an asterisk (*) next to the ones that I have not personally read, but those are all either award winning and/or well loved by multiple kids/teachers I know. I have put a tilde (~) next to the ones that are the thickest. 

~The Letter for the King (realistic historical fiction)

Fake Blood (graphic novel, realistic fiction)

Bad Island (graphic novel, realistic fantasy)

Saffy's Angel & Indigo's Star (first two in a realistic fiction series)

*The Wild Robot (science fiction

*The One and Only Ivan (based on a true story)

What If? by Randall Monroe (non-fiction...speculative?)

Super Science: Matter Matters (a pop-up non-fiction book)

~The True Meaning of Smekday (science fiction)

Proud by Ibtihaj Muhammad (Non-fiction. I read the Young readers edition to my kids, so I haven't read the adult version and couldn't say if it has inappropriate content. The YRE was very inspiring)

*Under the Egg (mystery, realistic fiction)

Fuzzy Mud (realistic science fiction)

The View from the Cherry Tree (realistic fiction, mystery)

Leviathan (steampunk fantasy)

Terrible Typhoid Mary (non-fiction)

*Dragonwatch (fantasy)

El Deafo (graphic novel memoir)

*Story Thieves (fantasy)

~The Secret Keepers (realistic fiction, mystery)

Wires & Nerve Vol 1 & Vol 2 (Graphic Novel sequels to the lunar chronicles, science fiction)

~Steelheart (science fiction)

Bad Machinery: The Case of the Good Boy (graphic novel, mystery, fantasy)


About midway though the year I asked Nancy how it was going. She said "This last week I sent her The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt. . . I'm using your list and other recommendations. Ensley said it's the best present she's ever had!"

I hope you enjoyed this list. What would you add to it? 
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