Great Reads for Teens and Tweens!

Helping you make an informed decision about that book

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Title: One Crazy Summer

Author: Rita Williams-Garcia

Publisher: Amistad    Year: 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0060760908

Genre: Fiction

Age: 9 and up

Awards: 2011 Coretta Scott King Award Winner, 2011 Newbery Honor Book, 2011 Scott O’Dell Prize for Historical Fiction, 2010 National Book Award Finalist, Junior Library Guild Selection, Texas Library Association Best Book for 2010

Themes / Subjects: Juvenile Fiction, Historical Fiction, Prejudice & Racism, Family Life, Travel & Culture, African American, Black Panther Party, 20th century issues, Civil Rights Movement

Plot Summary:

It’s the summer of 1968 and sisters, 11-year-old Delphine, 9-year-old Vonetta, and 7-year-old Fern embark on an adventure that takes them from Brooklyn, New York to Oakland, California to meet the mother that abandoned them many years ago. The girls have no idea what to expect, but they certainly didn’t expect to participate in a day camp run by members of the Black Panther Party. Cecile Johnson, their mother, “mammal birth giver,” is secretive about her work behind the closed kitchen doors and wants nothing to do with them. Set during one of the most tumultuous years in American history, One Crazy Summer explores the civil rights movement through the eyes of children.

My Take:

I actually walked away from this book with a better knowledge of the civil rights movement and Black Panther Party. The reader sees the historical changes through the eyes of Delphine, the oldest sister. Although she is just 11 going on 12, Delphine is extremely wise for her age and carries the added weight of being responsible for her sisters. I love how conscious she is of the differences between blacks and whites, yet she doesn’t allow her views or opinions to be mandated by others especially the Black Panther party.

Throughout the book, I kept hoping for Cecile Johnson to change and finally become the mother the little girls so desperately wanted/needed. However, through Delphine’s, Vonetta’s, and Fern’s journey I grew to feel sorry for Cecile and had a better understanding of her relationship with her children (or lack of one). This book is both excellent for teens and adults because the impact of that summer continues to affect us today.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Similar read: The Watson’s Go to Birmingham1963  by Christopher Paul Curtis

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Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary

Title: Ramona Quimby, Age 8

Author: Beverly Cleary

Publisher: HarperCollins        Year: 1992

ISBN-13: 978-0380709564

Genre: Fiction

Age: 8 and up

Awards: Newbery Honor Book, IRA/CBC Children’s Choice, Buckeye Children’s Book Award (Ohio), Garden State Children’s Book Award (New Jersey), Charlie May Simon Book Award (Arkansas), ALA Notable Children’s Book, Horn Book Fanfare, Horn Book Fanfare, Parents’ Choice Gold Award, Parents’ Choice Gold Award

Themes / Subjects: Juvenile Fiction, Elementary School, Friendships, Family Life

Plot Summary:

Check out my booktalk trailer I created with goanimate.com!

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary http://goanimate.com/videos/0ZjsHi-6puxw

My Take:

Another classic from my childhood! The pages of my copy are literally falling out, but I’ve had the book since childhood and can’t bear to throw it out for a new copy. In elementary school I had my fair share of mishaps which is just one of the reasons I love Ramona Quimby. Reading about her made me feel like it was ok that I leaned up against the wall with wet paint and got it in my hair because Ramona had gotten egg in hers. Ramona is literally the little girl inside every one of us and even if you relate more with Beezus, I am sure you have had a Ramona moment. Although this book is intended for children, I would highly recommend that parents buy it for their young kids and keep it on the family bookshelf because they are going to want to read it again and again.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Similar read: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. No young girl’s life is complete without Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume by their beds.

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Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Title: Little House on the Prairie

Author:  Laura Ingalls Wilder

Publisher: HarperCollins (75th Anniversary Edition)            Year: 2010

ISBN -13: 978-0061958274

Age: 8 and up

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Subjects / Themes: Juvenile Fiction, Family Life, Frontier, Pioneer Life, 19th Century United States, Farm & Ranch Life, Historical Fiction, Classic

Plot Summary:

Pa Ingalls is tired of how crowded the big woods are getting. So he decides to sell the house and move west with his family. Just before the ice breaks, the family loads up their wagon and heads out. They cross the Mississippi River and then head south, settling two days away from Independence, Missouri. Now they have to build a new house and survive the wilderness. Meanwhile, Laura is anxious to see a papoose. And with all the Indians in the area, she may get her chance.

My take:

Little House on the Prairie is a true classic that is not only enjoyed by children but adults as well. The writing is simple yet the story is captivating. It is a wonderfully enthralling educational adventure story that captivates its readers from the very first page. Although it is categorized as a fictional story, I consider this book non-fiction since it provides us with a pretty accurate view of the relationship between settlers and Indians and between pioneers and the government. This book and series is a great way to introduce students to the 19th century westward movement in the United States.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Similar Read: The Headless Horseman by Mayne Reed

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Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff by Jennifer L. Holm

Title: Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff

Author: Jennifer L. Holm

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers      Year: 2011

ISBN-13: 978-1442436633

Genre: Fiction

Age: 8 and up

Awards: ALA Notable Children’s Books, Beehive Award Master List (Utah), Booksense Children’s Pick, BookPage Notable Title, Charlotte Award Ballot (New York), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award Master List (Vermont), Lone Star Reading List 2008-2009, NAPPA Gold Award Winner, Publishers Weekly Starred Review, South Carolina Book Award Nominee, 2007 New York Public Library‘s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list

Themes / Subjects: Middle School, growing up, girls, friendship, education, family, relationships

Plot Summary:

Ginny Davis begins her seventh grade year with a list of items to accomplish. None of these items, however, include accidently turning her hair pink, or losing the lead role in the ballet recital to her ex-best friend. If anything could go wrong this school year, then it will.

As readers follow Ginny’s story of her year through her collection of stuff – notes from friends, report cards, receipts, cartoons, poems, etc. – an image of a funny, loveable girl struggling with her identity emerges, whoever that girl ultimately turns out to be.

My Take:

I was extremely skeptical reading a book that was told through stuff. At first glance, I thought there was no way that the book would be coherent and would only work for higher thinkers/readers. This book was actually pretty cool.

The first thing that makes this book neat is that it is not written like a typical book. Instead each page has “stuff” like to do lists, notes, IM’s, receipts, programs, etc. I would recommend reading the book twice. The first time just read the book to read it. The second time you read it, really take the time to look at the connections between all the stuff and what is said. For example, second on Ginny’s to-do list that opens the book is to get the role of the Sugarplum Fairy in the Nutcracker, so you know how much Ginny wants the role. Later on in the book you see the casting list, and on the next page you see a journal entry lamenting her stepfather’s forgetfulness, and you easily connect the dots for that plotline.

This is such a hilarious and beautiful story, about the resiliency and spirit that early adolescents have, in spite of things that always seem to go wrong.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars … A very easy read but is definitely better the second time.

Similar read: Middle School the Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson

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Hank Zipzer: Niagara Falls, or Does It? by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver

Title: Hank Zipzer: Niagara Falls, or Does It?

Author: Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap      Year: 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0448431628

Genre: Fiction

Age: 7 and up

Awards: Beehive Children’s Fictional Book Award,  Black-Eyed Susan Book Award,  Maud Hart Lovelace Award,  Wyoming Indian Paintbrush Book Award

Themes / Subjects: Elementary school, school & education, learning disabilities, humor, friendships, social issues – special needs, juvenile fiction

Plot Summary:

For Hank Zipzer, fourth grade is not the fresh start he thought it’d be. On his first day back to school he is called to the principal’s office where he is scolded for being late to school. When he returns back to class things get even worse when Mrs. Adolf assigns the class a five paragraph essay on “What You Did This Summer” and tells Hank he will be the first to present his essay. Five paragraphs?! Hank can hardly write one good sentence, how is he going to write five paragraphs? Instead of writing what he did last summer, Hank decides to use his “creativity” to present a living essay. Naturally it begins well and ends as a disaster landing Hank in detention which strangely enough may end up changing his life.

My Take:

Is Hank Zipzer really the world’s greatest underachiever? I think not. Hank Zipzer is absolutely an amazingly awesome character and one whom I greatly admire. Everyone learns differently and it’s a little heartbreaking to read that people (especially his parents) think Hank is lazy or dumb just because he does things differently. In fact, he is a creative genius and has a knack for remembering interesting facts. He just has difficulty translating his knowledge to boring assignments. It uses silly, irreverent, classroom humor to tell the story of a young boy who enlists the aid of his classmates to keep him out of trouble. This is one book in a series of similar stories, and promises good reading for kids of all ages.

I know the age is 7 and up and this is a teen/tween page, so why include this book? Because it is that awesome! The lessons in this book can be applied to all ages and should be read by all ages. Don’t let the fact that Hank is an elementary kid scare you off, take my word for it, it’s a great read.

Neat fact: Henry Winkler is dyslexic and his stories are about a kid with a learning disability. See any similarities? Hmm…

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Similar read: Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos … Like Hank Zipzer, Joey Pigza the main character of this series has a learning disabilities and struggles with his desire to behave and his impulses.

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Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

Title: Maniac Magee

Author: Jerry Spinelli

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers      Year: 1990

ISBN-10: 0316807222

Genre: Fiction

Age: 9 and up

Awards: Newbery Medal (1991), Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award (1993), Nene Award (1996), Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (1993), Flicker Tale Children’s Book Award (1992), Flicker Tale Children’s Book Award (1992), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award (1992), Pacific Northwest Library Association Young Reader’s Choice Award (1993), New Mexico Land of Enchantment Award (1993)

Themes / Subjects: Social issues, prejudice & racism, runaways, orphans, relationships, family relationships

Plot Summary:

All Maniac Magee wants is an address with numbers that he can tell people is where he lives and a loving family to come home to. Before he became Maniac Magee, Jeffrey Magee was orphaned as a baby when his parents died in a trolley accident. Sent to live with an unloving/feuding aunt and uncle who refuse to divorce because they are Catholic, Jeffrey finally decides to run away at age 8. Eventually he makes his way to the highly segregated town of Two Mills where through his amazing feats, Maniac (as the townspeople will call him) transforms the town forever.

My Take:

I love action and stories that don’t spend too much time building the story up. Within the first three pages, Maniac is orphaned and living with his feuding Catholic aunt and uncle. This is going to be good!

Maniac Magee is a truly wonderful character and young hero. Although much of the time he is sleeping on the streets or with other down-and-outs like himself, he continues to amaze everyone he meets with his friendly nature, athletic feats, and complete color-blindness. This book is part of the 6th grade curriculum at the school where I work. Although the targeted audience of this book is ages 9-12, a few of the teachers agree with me that older kids would benefit from reading (or re-reading) this book. The issues or prejudice & racism and how Maniac handles the situations would make for an awesome in-depth discussion and debate.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. I couldn’t give it a full 5 stars because there were a couple scenes that made me feel a little weird. Why didn’t anyone call the authorities when this kid wouldn’t go to school or go home? Then again it was a different time when this book was written.

Similar read: The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

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