Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai B.L. 4.8
Newbery Award and honor books are regarded as high quality writing for a reason. They often address issues that adults and, maybe especially children, face. This book discusses what it is like to be a refugee, however it is formatted differently than what would be considered normal. It is from the perspective of a 10-year-old girl whose family has to flee Vietnam during wartime. It is not only from her perspective, but is written in verse, which is different and attention getting. This does not have to be read at a certain pace or rhythm like other types of poetry. The format of the writing is mean to communicate a feeling and perhaps some underlying message, but this can be read exactly like any other book!
This novel discusses really difficult issues such as living in a war zone, escaping, and trying to make a new home in a place where not everyone is accepting. This is a great read for all ages, though the issues may be more difficult to grasp for younger readers. This can also be a good way to broach subjects such as empathy and acceptance.
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage B.L. 3.9
Three Times Lucky is a really interesting novel from the perspective of 11-year-old Moses LoBeau. Mo (as everyone calls her) is a very intelligent little girl who washed up in a stream in North Carolina as a newborn after a hurricane upstream--no doubt prompting the name “Moses.” Mo is taken in by the Colonel and Miss Lana who raise and love her.
The summer before Mo goes to 6th grade a new man comes to the tiny town of Tupelo Landing-- detective Starr-- as well as a murderer. Mo and her friend Dale start on the journey of finding the killer, while Mo continues to search for her Upstream Mother. Mo and Dale are caught up in a murder and kidnapping with some great twists and reveals in the novel. There is also some internal growth for Mo as she learns what her family in Tupelo means to her.
While this book is a 3.9 level, I would recommend it to slightly older readers. It may be difficult to grasp some language and terminology that is colloquial in North Carolina, but relatively foreign in this part of the country. It may also be difficult for younger readers to grasp the relationship dynamics between Mo, Colonel, and Miss Lana, as well as the abusive relationships in the Johnson family. Having said all of that, it was a really enjoyable book and will keep young and old readers entertained!
Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm B.L. 4.8
There is a lack of punctuation such as parenthesis during conversation, as well as commas. There is also an increase in capitalization that should normally only exist at the beginning of sentences and with proper nouns. This lack of adherence to common English rules and punctuations exists in order to emphasize that the story is being told by a 12-year-old pioneer with limited education. In her storytelling, things such as parentheses and commas don’t matter as much, and she capitalizes for emphasis rather than in adherence to any rules. This is a great facet of this book! The storytelling is not just through the words, but through the appearance and organization of the book as well, making it feel more genuine.
As for content, this book is really about May Amelia finding her place as the only girl among so many men. She-- like most children-- feels restricted in what she can do, mainly because she is told that she is not allowed to do the same things as her brothers. She is constantly testing her boundaries in order to find out who she is and what is going to be best for her. These issues are similar to those faced by many children and therefore I feel the book level is mostly appropriate. I say “mostly” because the book also addresses the topic of loss very poignantly. There is a lot of grief that May Amelia comes to terms with-- even though she may not fully understand it. This topic may be sensitive for some readers, but it is also important that it be addressed. Overall, this was a wonderful book for fifth grade readers and older.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate B.L. 3.6
This is a novel about a silverback gorilla, Ivan, who for decades is kept in a small cage in a roadside mall. Ivan begins the novel as a calm and patient gorilla surrounded by other animals who are attractions in the roadside mall. Ivan is not at peace with his situation, but has blocked out memories about where he came from and his former life in the wild. However, as he talks with Stella-- an elephant in a nearby cage-- and connects with a new addition to the mall, Ivan uses his love for art to fulfill a promise and save his friends.
This novel is based on a real-life gorilla who was kept in isolation for decades, and while it is a 3.6 reading level, and can be understood at that level, it is an emotionally mature story. There is some violence and a lot of heartache and sadness. However, this book does bring up good points about not settling for what you have always known, but aspiring to something more. It can also teach about using your talents and work to benefit others and improve yourself. This novel has great content and is a quick read. It may be best for readers who are a little older and able to understand and deal with the emotional turmoil in the book.
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham B.L. 4.1
Jean Lee Latham put an extensive amount of research into this historical fiction novel. It is about Nathaniel Bowditch, the man who wrote “The American Practical Navigator” which greatly improved the safety and accuracy of sailing. Mr. Bowditch is portrayed as an extremely intelligent man who has a passion for learning and sailing. There is some information that may be difficult for younger readers to fully grasp, but it is not overly technical. While there is mention of family members and spouses, these details fade into the background of the story. The main focus of the story is sailing and the study and learning of Nathaniel Bowditch which allow him to improve sailing for everyone. There is also a strong focus on Mr. Bowditch’s teaching efforts. He endeavors to teach those on the ship who are not well learned. Through this he learns how to explain sailing concepts and the mathematics involved in different and simpler ways in order to allow many people to learn and understand.
One overarching lesson that can be taken from this book is: Anyone can learn and improve themselves and their lives through hard work and dedication. This book might be a little difficult for younger readers to understand specifics, but it is a historical adventure that can be appreciated in some way or another by readers of any age.
Classic literature does not have to be limited to adult fiction or a classroom. Here are ten great classic works for young readers.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women follows the four March sisters in a coming of age tale about growing up, love, and individuality. The sisters have unique personalities that make them easy to identify with, even centuries later. It is an interesting insight into life for young women in the 19th century, but also a moving story about family and budding identities.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Black Beauty is the life story of a horse with the same name. The story follows his life from a colt to retirement as he learns important moral lessons. It is a great story to teach young readers about empathy and care for animals. It is also one of the biggest selling books of all time!
A Little Princess and The Secret Garden by Frances Hogdson Burnett
Frances Hogdson Burnett is responsible for a few of my favorite childhood stories. A Little Princess and The Secret Garden. Sarah from A Little Princess is a naturally caring and generous girl who goes from wealth, poverty, and back to wealth. Along the way, she makes friends with the underdogs and teaches others (even adults) the value of empathy. Mary in The Secret Garden, on the other hand, was an ignored child who grew up spiteful and uncaring. She eventually learns a lesson on empathy and gains what she’s always craved, love and friendship.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Charlotte’s Web is another classic that teaches young readers about the importance of caring for others. Especially those who can’t speak for themselves (like animals). The story follows Wilbur the pig as he and his barnyard friends try to keep him from the slaughterhouse. With the help of Charlotte the spider and her miracle webs, Wilbur learns about the challenges of growing up (and apart) and death.
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
For most of us, Where the Red Fern Grows brings up memories of the tearfilled afternoon we finished it in elementary school. The story follows Billy and his two hunting dogs as they chase down raccoons and win hunting championships. It is a timeless classic, but will probably make young readers a little weepy.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
A Wrinkle in Time follows siblings Meg and Charles Wallace on a quest to find their father who has been trapped by “The Black Thing.” With the help of a human boy named Calvin and the three supernatural Mrs. Ws, the children go on an adventure through space and time to save their father (and the universe) from the evil “Black Thing.”
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl is responsible for numerous childhood classics but Charlie and the Chocolate Factory might be his most famous work. The book follows Charlie’s adventure through Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. The characters in the story learn valuable lessons about greed. Matilda is another favorite classic of Dahl’s. It is the story of a very intelligent little girl who develops telekinesis due to the neglect and mistreatment from her family and school headmistress.
Holes by Louis Sachar
Holes may not have been around as long as the other books on the list but it is another personal favorite. Stanley Yelnats’s entire family was cursed with bad luck, thanks to his “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.” When Stanley is falsely accused to stealing an expensive pair of shoes, he’s sent off to Camp Green Lake to dig holes for the Warden. Though the holes are supposed to “build character” it seems that the Warden is actually after the infamous treasure buried in the desert by the outlaw Kissin’ Kate Barlow.
As school begins, and the time to start working on AR reading goals begins, Crystal and I wanted to cover some of our favorite picks in chapter books for the pre-high school crowd.
Ready for Kindergarten Stinky Face? By Lisa Mccourt with illustrations by Cyd Moore, Early Reader Books: Green Level
As Stinky Face tells his mom the wildest worries he has about starting school, his mom helps him come up with solutions proving that if he can handle something as outrageous as sinks that only have grape juice than he can totally handle the normal newness of kindergarten.
Cam Jansen and the First Day of School Mystery by David A. Adler with illustrations by Susanna Natti, 3rd Grade Reading level
Cam and Eric are pretty sure they know what to expect on their first day of school but it doesn’t take Cam long to be in the center of another mystery when their new teacher is arrested! Fortunately for Ms. Benson, star student and top detective Cam Jansen is on the case and has proved her teacher’s innocence by the final bell.
American Girl School Books by Various Authors, 3rd to 4th Grade Reading level
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to go to school as a pioneer, on the prairie, or as a servant girl at the turn of the century, then these books are for you! Each book takes on what it would be like to attend school in a different era highlighting the differences (learning how to drink tea properly instead of use multiplication) but also the things that are familiar to the reader such as having good friends.
Wayside School Series by Louis Sachar with various illustrators, 3rd grade reading level
The Wayside School books by Louis Sachar are probably the funniest, weirdest, and silliest books about school. The fact that Wayside school is thirty stories high isn’t the only thing wacky about this school where you can have ice cream that tastes like your friends and naughty kids get turned into apples.
Middle School is worse than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff by Jennifer L. Holm with illustrations by Elicia Castaldi, 4th grade reading level
Middle school is a year full of changes and challenges for anyone but poor Ginny seems to have been given an extra helping of bad luck along with the dreaded cafeteria meatloaf. Told through notes, detention slips and cringe worthy school pictures, this book will have you laughing out loud.
Juv Level books for Middle Schoolers
Report Card by Andrew Clements, 4th grade reading level
Clements has written so many great books about school that it was hard to pick just one to feature and while the others are certainly worth checking-out (library pun intended), Report Card is a standout. Nora is a gifted genius but doesn’t want anyone to know because that would mean being obviously different than her classmates and going to a different class than her friends. Like many kids, Nora also feels that everyone is too worried about grades and wants to prove it by bringing home a report card full of C's and D's. Chaos ensues as everyone learns that letter grades aren’t always what determines how smart a person is and that we should all be less afraid of showing what makes us different.
The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Middle School by Robin Epstein, Ben Winters, and David Borgenicht
This middle school survival guide is a great nonfiction book that I found on Hoopla, to help calm those pre-class jitters. It is an informative guide full of tips and tricks to help juggle the new issues that come with lockers, multiple teachers, and homework coming from every class. It even has suggestions for how to handle new problems with friends, finding new interests, and the embarrassment of changing in the locker room.
Reading level 6th grade
From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess by Meg Cabot
From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess is a story about Olivia Grace, the long lost half-sister of Princess Mia. Olivia is in the 6th grade going about her business like usual, dreaming of being a wildlife illustrator, when out of nowhere she gets the news of her princess title from a very jealous friend turned bully. She is suddenly in a school where everyone wants to sit next to her, even if they have never spoken to her before, and meeting the family she has always wanted. It is a really cute book and the start of a new series.
Reading level 5th grade
Middle School: Get Me Out of Here by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts
Middle School: Get Me Out of Here is the story of a boy named Rafe who is just starting 7th grade in a new town and a new school. He is accepted into the Cathedral School of Arts and finds out that getting in was the easy part. The school has the students reapply after every year! He needs to keep up good grades, make great art, and keep out of trouble to be able to come back next year. That could be easier said than done. This book is told in an entertaining way and is full of great drawings.
Reading level 5th grade
Geeked Out by Obert Sky
Geeked Out is a dystopian middle school book. The world has gone to ruin after a dreadful movie adaptation led to a revolt, and the revolt led to the collapse of governments, and life was never the same. Unfortunately, even with the mess society has become kids still have to go to school. The main character is Timothy Dover (Tip). He and the rest of the AV Club start out attempting to get revenge against the jocks and end up getting super powers. This book is a funny one with lots of illustrations.
Reading Level: 5th grade
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
The School for Good and Evil is a story about two girls that were picked to attend the fabled School for Good and Evil to be trained to be fairy tale heroes or villains. The main characters, Sophie and Agatha, thought they knew what sides they were destined for but are taken by surprise when Sophie, with her pink dresses and glass slippers, is sent to the school for evil, and Agatha, who dislikes nearly everyone is sent to the school for good.
Reading Level 5th grade
Other fun school Books:
Mama Don’t go by Rosemary Wells with illustrations by Jody Wheeler, Early Reader Books: Red Level
According to Humphrey series by Betty G. Birney, Reading level 3rd to 4th grade
Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson, Juv collection, 3rd grade reading level
All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson, YA Graphic Novels, 3rd grade reading level
The end of August can be a dreaded time for kids of all ages as summer fun transitions back into school routine. What better way to get back into the swing of things than with familiar characters, favorite authors, and honest, relatable, fun tales from school? To give recommendations for every kid in the family, I’ve teamed up with Crystal to suggest the best school books available at the library or through the Hoopla app. Stay tuned for our next blogs where we’ll be talking about school themed chapter books for early readers and beyond! To start things off, I’ve highlighted some of the best picture books for helping younger kids gain confidence about going to school, especially if they are going for the first time.
Pete the Cat Rocking in my School Shoes by Eric Litwin with pictures by James Dean
Pete the cat knows the importance of looking good on his first day as he goes to school rocking a new pair of his signature sneakers. The first day of school isn’t without its challenges for Pete, but this book shows how something as simple as a new pair of shoes can help a child start school with the confidence of everyone’s favorite cat. Pete the Cat: The Wheels on the Bus and Pete the Cat’s Got Class are also available at the library with audio versions available on the Hoopla app.
What Did You Do Today?: The First Day of School by Kerry Arquette with illustrations by Nancy Hayashi
This unique book does the double duty of showing a kid what to expect at school while also giving them a look into what their grownups do during the day as well. While many back to school books focus on the child missing their adult, this book shows that missing one another is shared experience along with other activities like having lunch.
School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex with Illustrations by Christian Robinson
Kids aren’t the only ones who get nervous about going back to school, it turns out that your school is very nervous about meeting you too! This sweet and hilarious book shows what your school goes through to be ready as Frederick Douglass Elementary shares many of the same worries as the kids who will soon inhabit it. Will the kids at school like school? What if school gets embarrassed? Luckily, in spite of a first day full of new things, both school and its new students decide they want to have many more days of fun that year.
Maisy goes to Preschool by Lucy Cousins
Starting preschool can be just as big of an adventure for kids and Maisy Goes to Preschool introduces small children to everything they can expect at school through Cousins’s friendly illustrations and a short story that’s the perfect size for smaller attention spans.
First Grade Stinks by Mary Ann Rodman with illustrations by Beth Spiegel
Many children are excited about the new freedom of first grade and maturity that comes with being old pros at going to school. But many kids are also not expecting the new changes that come with moving past kindergarten. Through this funny and relatable book, Haley learns that while many things are different in first grade, that can be a good thing when it comes to learning new things like reading. She also learns that the most important things, having teachers that care and good friends, are the same no matter what grade you’re in.
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn with illustrations by Nancy M. Leak
The Kissing Hand is a wonderful book for a child who is especially nervous about starting school and being away from their parents for the first time. This book is a beloved classic because of the useful ritual it shares for helping kids feel close to their loved ones when they are apart. By finding a way to bring a kiss with him to school, Chester Racoon helps remind kids that they are loved and that separation is only temporary.
Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
Little worries can seem huge to a child Wemberly’s age so starting school is no easy task when that change can make even the bravest child worry. This book reminds kids that everyone worries about big changes (including grownups!), and that they won’t be the only ones who are nervous on the first day.
Lunch Money and Almost Late to School by Carol Diggory Shields with illustrations by Paul Misel
These two collections of poems are silly fun for all ages and cover a wide variety of school topics from show and tell mishaps to making sense of math. Told with fun illustrations and words that crawl, twist, and turn across the page, these books are perfect for reading aloud and laughing away back to school jitters.
Other Great School books:
The Berenstain Bears go to School by Jan And Stan Berenstain
How do Dinosaurs go to School? By Jane Yolen with illustrations by Mark Teague (Also available as an audiobook on the Hoopla app).
Froggy Goes to School by Jonathan London with illustrations by Frank Remkiewicz
If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don't! by Elise Parsley
We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins (available as an e-book with narration through the Hoopla app)
For the Juvenile recommendations I wanted to suggest some of the less popular and maybe a little older books to try to avoid telling everyone about books they have already read or heard about. I also tried to mix in as much variety as I could, so if anyone wants more genre specific suggestions let us know and we'll get working on it!
For the first book I went with an old favorite...
The Devils Arithmetic By Jane Yolen
The Devils Arithmetic is a really great story about a thirteen year old girl named Hannah. She is a typical girl with no patience or understanding for her family’s insistence on remembering the past and the importance of the Seder. That is, until she is transported back to WWII and the Holocaust. She experiences firsthand the past she should remember and gains a new appreciation for her family and the culture they share. It is a really great and educational book especially for fans of Number The Stars (another more well-known fiction on the Holocaust by Lois Lowry). It is a 4th grade reading level with the suggested age of 12+ due to violent content associated with WWII and the Holocaust.
My Teacher is an Alien By Bruce Coville
My Teacher is an Alien is a quick, lighter read about a girl just starting the sixth grade. She is looking forward to school, her teacher, and the class play...until she finds out her should be teacher has been replaced with Mr. John Smith. He is grouchy, by the book, hates music, and when she catches him pulling off his face she has to figure out how to get rid of him before students get abducted. The character development is a little lacking in this book, but it is fun and cute. It is a 5th grade reading level.
Touching Spirit Bear By Ben Mikaelsen
Touching Spirit Bear is a story about permanent consequences and taking responsibility for your own actions. Cole Mathews is the main character and is a troubled kid on a bad path. He has been stealing, fighting, and bullying. His last victim ended up in the ICU with brain damage which landed Cole in jail with the possibility of being tried as an adult. Cole blames everyone else for his actions and problems including his victims. He is offered one final choice: prison or Circle Justice. Cole will either live behind bars or spend one year in isolation to try and change before being charged. This book is almost a mix between Holes and Hatchet in some ways, but in this book the main character is actually in the wrong. Touching Spirit Bear is all about redemption and changing for the better. Touching Spirit Bear is 5th grade level and has some bullying and violence to look out for.
The Two Princesses of Bamarre By Gail Levine
The Two Princesses of Bamarre is a magical story about two sisters. Meryl is brave and dreams of adventures, fighting dragons, and protecting the kingdom. Addie is more timid and content to stay within the castle walls. The two are different in every aspect, except for their unwavering bond as sisters. When Meryl becomes gravely ill the tables are turned. Addie must go on a dangerous quest to find a way to save her sister. She encounters dragons, magic, and wizards. This is a great story with themes of adventure and family bonds. This book is a 4th grade reading level.
Among The Hidden By Margaret Haddix
Among The Hidden is about a boy name Luke who is the third child in a place where third children are not allowed. Because of this, he is a shadow child. He has never gone to school, never had a friend, and, after homes start being built around the farm, he cannot even go outside. One day Luke sees another kid like him, a girl named Jen, who is not happy to be kept in the shadows. This is a suspenseful story that really engages the reader and makes you want to keep reading.
This book is a 5th grade level. It does talk about population control and that could be a sensitive subject to some individuals.
The Frog Princess By E D Baker
The Frog Princess is a fairy tale story with funny and engaging characters. The main character Emma is an unconventional princess who does not fit in and longs to escape her frustrating life. However, she did not mean to escape her life by turning into a frog. Emma spends the rest of the book trying to figure out how to change back! This book is a 5th grade reading level.
Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians By Brandon Sanderson
Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians is a really funny story about a boy named Alcatraz who has an unlucky knack for breaking things. He has been shifted from foster home to foster home because of it. On his thirteenth birthday, a grandfather he did not know he had shows up and tells him that his knack for breaking things is actually a gift-- the most powerful one in the family. Alcatraz then sets out on an adventure with his newly discovered family to stop the Librarians from conquering the remaining Free Kingdomers and ruling the world. Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite authors and always manages to make an engaging and unique story. This book is a 5th grade level.
Looking for some inspiration on what to read next? Who better to ask then the people who work around books for a living!? Each month we will post a "staff picks" blog post written by one of our staff members. These posts will vary in genre, theme, age appropriateness, etc. If you have any requests on a genre or age category you would like to see, submit a comment here and we will get it on the list!