Kelly and I have reviewed books for adults, but we haven’t really tackled the young adult and adolescent literature realm. This post is long overdue, but here are some of our favorites.
Pre-K-Third Grade Books
One Love by Cedella Marley and Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
My children have been singing the sweet songs of Bob Marley since they were in the crib. Messages of love, acceptance, and happiness combined with beautiful music can always get us singing and dancing. Bob Marley’s children are very active in the arts. His first born, Cedella Marley has put his song, One Love. into the form of a children’s story. My kids love this book. The illustrations are gorgeous and uplifting, and they soak up this message of love and understanding. The book encourages our little ones to love their families, to love each other, and to love all living things. It is as gorgeous as Marley’s original song. I would recommend this for children 2 and up. It can be found here on Amazon.
Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe
Radiant child is the story of Jean Michel-Basquiat, an artist out of Brooklyn who rose to fame in the 80s. Radiant Child is the Coretta Scott King illustration award winner boasting illustrations in the style of Basquiat. In addition, it has also earned the Randolf Caldecott medal. Steptoe uses collage-type images to show how Basquiat viewed the world. He saw art in every crevice, on every surface, and in every person. I absolutely love the way Javaka Steptoe shows the appreciation for culture and the pride Basquiat had in his family’s struggle to give him the life that he loved. This book is beautiful and heartfelt. My youngest children are really getting into art, and this book’s illustrations dazzle them. This is a must-read this summer for kids pre-k through 3rd grade.
Pete the Cat written and illustrated by James and Kimberly Dean
Not since Skippyjon Jones have we enjoyed a book collection so fully. My daughter adores Pete the Cat for the rhyme and rhythm. I like Pete the Cat for the messages of optimism. My kids have no reason to complain in their lives, but sometimes, their grumpiness can take over. When that happens, we usually grab a Pet the Cat book and get in a better mood. Early readers can attach themselves to the subtle repetition and feel important by reading their “part” each time it appears. There are many Pete the Cat books out there, but our favorite is Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses. There is a new one out called Pete the Cat and the Cool Cat Boogie. Check these out. They’ve got great messages and a fun rhythm.
Nevertheless, She Persisted written and illustrated by Taryn Smith
I could not be more honored or excited to review a book as I am about this one by Taryn Smith. This young author has written, illustrated, and published a book of empowerment. As a junior in my creative writing class, her literary debut highlights powerful women in history, following a timeline of excellence right up to the present. Women like Harriet Tubman, Suzanne La Flesche, and Elizabeth Warren make appearances. At the end of her book, she includes a call to action to little girls that reads: “You are empowered to achieve greatness. These remarkable women have proven that a girl’s potential should not be determined by the biases of her society. There will always be obstructions to prevent you from reaching your goals. Nevertheless, you must persist; it takes someone as brave as you to change the world.” I read those very lines to my daughter and I watched her physically take them in; her back got straighter and her smile got bigger. Mothers of young daughters, you need this book in your life. You can purchase it here on Amazon.
The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
The False Prince is the first in a trilogy of adventure and danger. Conner tried to devise a plan to put an impostor in as prince. Sage is decidedly curious about Conner’s intentions. Four orphans are in the running, but Sage must be chosen as prince or he will face death. My oldest son read this in 5th grade and I can attribute his love of reading to this book. It’s upper elementary level, and has so much intensity that readers will not want to put it down. Once they finish The False Prince, they can continue on as it is an intriguing three book series. My son recommends this to anyone who enjoys action and adventure.
Young Adult Fiction
Any John Green Book
I know this seems like a cop-out, but your teens need John Green in their lives. I have read every one of his books, and they are near perfect. Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns, and of course, The Fault in Our Stars boast characters who are as funny as they are tragic. Green doesn’t shy away from topics that envelope our teens, and I think our young readers appreciate the author’s honesty. Looking for Alaska was my first John Green book, and he has had me captivated since. Throughout The Fault in our Stars, I was constantly writing down quotes to use later in life, and it really is his best written novel, while Paper Towns is the funniest one of his. Both books have movies made about them, but I think they pale in comparison to the ride his literature takes you on. If you have a bookless teen, hurry up and grab them a John Green novel. I would start with Looking for Alaska, but parents can not go wrong with The Fault in our Stars.
Gutless Carl Deuker
Parents of sports-crazed teens probably already know about Carl Deuker. I teach Heart of a Champion, a book about baseball and refusing to succumb to peer pressure in my 9th grade English class, but his newest book, Gutless has teens so enthralled. My 11-year-old loved this book as well. Like most of Deuker’s books, there is a moral undertone. Brock Ripley dislikes physical contact, and does not make the varsity football team. This experience pushes him away from Hunter Gates, a major player on the team. Hunter proves to be quite the antagonist and bullies Brock’s smaller best friend. Brock has to decide if he will, in fact, stick up for his buddy or stay a bystander and let the bullying ensue. Get this book into the hands of a sports fanatic, and he or she could become a reader for life. They will thank you and want to read more. If they like it, Gym Candy and Heart of a Champion are also worth your time.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Of all the books, this is the one that parents may be hesitant to grab. I fell in love with Sherman Alexie in college. His book, Indian Killer, was better than any I had read up until that point. He is severe. He is honest. He is unapologetic, and he has finally published a young adult novel. Readers who enjoy Diary of a Wimpy Kid will like this book. However, it’s not really the same. Cartoons are entwined with intelligent writing, but the writing drives the book. I teach struggling readers all day. I have kids that can sharpen their pencil for ten minutes, stare at a divot in the wall for half an hour, or try to set up their books in an attempt to fake read while they drift off to dreamland. When this happens, I steer them to Alexie’s book. When my struggling readers actually read this book, they laugh, they raise their eyebrows in shock, and they can’t wait to pick it up the next day.
The plot is about Junior, a cartoonist who wants to break the cycle of his relatives that have come before him. He transfers off of the reservation to a farm town high school where he is the only Native American, save for the mascot of the school. Like many of his books, Alexie chronicles some of his own experiences within the story. It is funny and sad and unbelievable, and there is nothing like it out there. When my students who have never read a book on purpose finish this book, they are craving more like it. You will not be sorry you let this into the hands of your disinterested teen.
There you have it! These are my top picks for literature from birth to 9th grade. If your children are bookless, they need to try one of these listed. I am a strong believer that kids who say they don’t like reading, haven’t read the right book yet. What are your kids reading? Do you need even more ideas? I’ve got them. Let me know on our Twitter or Facebook, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.