I began my children’s literature education by reading to my kids. The first books were board and picture books, the favorites demanded over and over again. Some of them I loved and some I tolerated. And part of the joy of a picture book is a snuggly kid in my lap and hearing them laugh or gasp or point out the bird character who is never mentioned in the text.
Now the kids are the ones recommending middle grade books for me to read. I began with Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting, then more recently read RJ Palacio’s Wonder, Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, and Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. These are the books they came home from school with and said, Mom, you have to read this.
I loved them all. How is that possible? I believe having a child tell a parent to read a book is an incredible recommendation. Their hearts were touched by these books, and they wanted to share their experience. I think when grown-ups recommend books to kids, sometimes we want to help them in some way. We hope a book will expose them to something new, interest them in reading, or even teach them something specific, perhaps about prejudice or animal welfare. But when I read these books, I didn’t learn those things at all.
I admired Babbitt’s tone and the atmosphere of Tuck Everlasting (it actually reminded me a bit of Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native); I felt I had visited some very wise old people in an unheard fairy tale. With the other three, I met characters I hold very dear. Frankly, I’m relatively new to middle grade books because when I was a kid, I mostly read Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie. I could have read all those Katherine Paterson books when I was 12, and I missed out! But do my recommendations mean as much to my kids as their recommendations do to me?
I don’t think so. Mostly I have spent time finding books that they are willing to try and I hope they enjoy. This has been very hard in a family where I am the only reading role model, and both kids are boys who are so different. There were a few hits, like the Captain Underpants books (which I don’t think are the least bit inappropriate, thank you very much). But one boy loved Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s Peter and the Starcatchers, and the other refused to crack it open. One is a die-hard fan of Rick Riordan, but the other has to have his animal books instead. So when they both recommend books like Tuck, I pay attention.
What great books have your kids recommended to you?